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Viewing Blog: Mitali's Fire Escape, Most Recent at Top
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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. 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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2. 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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3. 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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4. 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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5. 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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6. 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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7. 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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8. 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!

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9. 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.”

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10. 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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11. 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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12. Announcing my Debut Picture Book: GIFTS FOR ABUELA

Publishers Weekly makes it official!

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13. RICKSHAW GIRL: The Movie!

Excited to announce that RICKSHAW GIRL is going to be a movie

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14. Hope for Theatrical Adaptations: WAR HORSE

If there's a shortage of clotted cream in the British Isles, feel free to blame my recent visit to London. As usual, I overdosed on Darjeeling and scones laden with liberal servings of my favourite (note the spelling) dairy product.

My husband suggested that we see WAR HORSE in the theater, and I reluctantly agreed, curmudgeon that I am when it comes to literary adaptations. Let the record stand: I didn't see the film. The curtain went up, and to my amazement, I was hooked within minutes. Much of my pleasure was derived from the creative puppetry provided by South Africa's Handspring Productions. These artists made it easy to suspend disbelief and cheer for the beautiful horses on stage.
I popped into Blackwell's Bookshop in Oxford to buy a copy of the book by Michael Morpurgo and read it on the flight home. The novel is delightful, but the stage production takes it to a new level thanks to the added talents of directors, actors, stage designers, and most of all, the puppeteers.

I stand corrected about theatrical adaptations, at least when handled with excellence in craft and story. And I'm more hopeful and excited to see what the creative team at the Bay Area Children's Theater will do with their adaptation of my novel RICKSHAW GIRL, premiering April 16, 2016 on the stage of the Creativity Theater in San Francisco.

We writers like to be in charge of our stories, but magical things can happen when we release the reins and harness the talents of others. Perhaps our stories will be able to gallop into the hearts and minds of a much wider audience. Fodder for thought? (Sorry.)

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15. Happy International Tiger Day!

I'm delighted that my novel TIGER BOY is heading for publication in India, thanks to Duckbill Press. In honor of International Tiger Day, here's the almost-final cover designed by Tanvi Bhat in the traditional patachitra style of the Bengal region. Isn't it beautiful?

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16. TIGER BOY Discussion and Activity Guide

Charlesbridge provides stellar discussion and activity guides for my books, and here's the new one for TIGER BOY to prove my point.

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17. My Party Schedule for ALA Convention 2015 in the City by the Bay

The children's and young adult book publishing community is converging in San Francisco for the American Library Association's Annual Convention this weekend. The buzz is palpable; the parties already starting. Here's my schedule:

Wednesday, June 25:

Author Series: A GROWN-UP CONVERSATION ABOUT CHILDREN’S BOOKS, at the Battery Club in San Francisco. Here's the description of the event:

You may not know it, but a golden age of literature is now unfolding on our bookcases’ lowest shelves. For too long we have neglected a much loved, widely read, artistically significant literary form: the picture book. Join Mac Barnett, Carson Ellis, Jon Klassen, and Christian Robinson, four young voices in children’s literature, for a discussion about how picture books work, why they matter, and how we can ensure our children get the great art they deserve.
Thursday, June 26:

I'll be partying with my agent, Laura Rennert, and other writers and agents at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency ALA Get-Together from 6-8 p.m.

Saturday, June 27:

Daniel Handler and Jacqueline Woodson with We Need Diverse Books are hosting a celebration of
Scott Bonner, director of the Ferguson Public Library and winner of the 2015 Lemony Snicket Prize for Noble Librarians Faced With Adversity. This event will take place from 6-9 p.m.

Sunday, June 28:

From 9-10, a bunch of YA authors and librarians will be mingling at the YALSA Coffee Klatch. Here's the description:
Enjoy coffee and meet with YALSA's award winning authors! This informal coffee klatch will give you an opportunity to meet authors who have appeared on one of YALSA’s six annual selected lists or have received one of YALSA's five literary awards. Librarians will sit at a table and every 3 or 4 minutes, a new author will arrive at your table to talk about their upcoming books!
From 10:30 - 11:30, I'll be signing copies of TIGER BOY in Charlesbridge booth #3116. Please stop by and say hello.

At noon, I'll join Sage Publications and ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom at the 2nd annual Banned Books Readout Booth, where I'm going to read a short passage from THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN by Sherman Alexie, and then speak from the heart about why that book matters to me.

Hope to see you there!

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18. Hubbub Festival of Children's Books in Boston

What's all the Hubbub about? It's the first annual book festival solely for children in Boston this Saturday, June 20. I'll be appearing on a panel (moderated by WBUR's Meghna Chakrabarti) with Jeanne Birdsall and Tor Seidler in the Old South Sanctuary from 11:45-12:45 to talk about the theme of home in middle-grade fiction: "Welcome Home: Great Books for Middle-Grade Readers."

Then, from 3:45-4:45 in the Boston Public Library's Del Rey Room, I'm leading a workshop for upper elementary and teen writers on creating a sense of place in fiction: "A Whole New World: Weaving the Magic Carpet of Place."

Perhaps it's appropriate that my focus will be on "home" and "place," since Boston was both of that to me for almost thirteen years. Will I see you there? It's going to be a beautiful day in Copley Square.

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19. TIGER BOY East Coast Book Launch and More!

After I launched TIGER BOY in the San Francisco Bay Area, I headed to the coast I used to call home for the New England Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators conference, several author visits, and a book launch party at Newtonville Books. What a joy to see old friends and meet new ones. Travel along with me.

My NESCBWI workshop for fellow writers:
"12 Questions to Help us See Race and Culture in our Stories"
Signing with author friends: From L to R, Me, Debi Mishiko Florence (Japan: A Kaleidoscope Kids Book), Mike Jung (Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities), Grace Lin (Starry River of the Sky), and Padma Venkatraman (A Time to Dance).

Delightful to see a bunch of brown faces at the conference (From L to R: Sona Charaipotra, Visi Tilak, Nandini Bajpai, me)
Book Launch Party at Newtonville Books!
Author (me), illustrator (Jamie Hogan), editor (Yo Scott), baby (belongs to Yo), tiger, book: what else do you need for a bookstore party?
"Buy this book, please."
Illustrator Jamie Hogan captivates the crowd with stories about research and technique.
Next came five school visits in three days, starting with writing workshops for fifth-graders at Willard School in Concord, Massachusetts.
Several of these fourth-graders at Zervas School in Newton started following me on Instagram after I visited. They are nine.
Haggerty School in Cambridge is full of mini-mes like this one.
New England seemed shell-shocked from the winter, as though bracing for a next snow. But the daffodils and crocuses were in bloom and the lilacs were budding. Happy Spring, Boston! I miss you!

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20. Children's Publishers Donate Books to Prison-Nursery Libraries

In honor of Mother’s Day, the last day of Children’s Book Week 2015, the Children’s Book Council (CBC) partnered with The unPrison Project — a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to empowering and mentoring women in prison, while raising awareness of their families’ needs — to create libraries of books for incarcerated mothers to read with their babies at prison nurseries in 10 states: California, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Nebraska, New York, South Dakota, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

17 of the CBC’s member publishers donated copies of 45 hand-picked titles for children ages 0-18 months for each library. I'm excited, because four of the publishers are mine!

The books will be paired with simple interactive reading guides— fostering mother-child dialogue and bonding — and will be hand-delivered and organized in the nurseries by Deborah Jiang-Stein, founder of The unPrison Project and author of Prison Baby. Jiang-Stein was born in prison to a heroin-addicted mother, and has made it her mission to empower and mentor women and girls in prison. 15 additional titles have also been donated by these publishers to stock visiting room libraries for inmates and their older children.

CBC members participating in the effort are:

  • ABRAMS Books for Young Readers
  • Candlewick Press
  • Charlesbridge Publishing, Inc.
  • Creston Books
  • Disney Publishing Worldwide
  • Finding My Way Books
  • Five Star Publications, Inc.
  • HarperCollins Children’s Books
  • Holiday House, Inc.
  • Kane Miller, a division of EDC Publishing
  • Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
  • National Geographic Kids
  • Nobrow (Flying Eye Books)
  • Penguin Young Readers Group (Nancy Paulsen Books)
  • Random House Children’s Books
  • Scholastic, Inc.
  • The RoadRunner Press

“Of the 200,000 women in prison in the United States, 80% have children. Reading together can be one of the most powerful ways for mothers and their children to stay connected during a prison sentence, but visiting rooms in prisons are vastly underserved and books are hard to come by,” says Deborah Jiang-Stein, founder of The unPrison Project. “These prison-nursery libraries will fill that void for mothers and their babies.”

About the Children’s Book Council (CBC)

The Children’s Book Council is the nonprofit trade association for children’s book publishers in North America. The CBC offers children’s publishers the opportunity to work together on issues of importance to the industry at large, including educational programming, literacy advocacy, and collaborations with other national organizations. Our members span the spectrum from large international houses to smaller independent presses. The CBC is proud to partner with other national organizations on co-sponsored reading lists, educational programming, and literacy initiatives. Please visit www.cbcbooks.org for more information.

About The unPrison Project

The mission of The unPrison Project (UP) is to empower, inspire, and cultivate critical thinking, life skills, self-reflection, and peer mentoring for women and girls in prison as tools to plan, set goals, and prepare for a successful life after their release, and at the same time bring public awareness about the needs of incarcerated women and their children. The unPrison Project is a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit. Learn more at www.unprisonproject.org.

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21. 2015 Jane Addams Book Awards


Recipients of the 2015 Jane Addams Children’s Book Awards were announced today by the Jane Addams Peace Association. Since 1953, the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award annually acknowledges books published in the U.S. during the previous year. Books commended by the Award address themes or topics that engage children in thinking about peace, justice, world community and/or equality of the sexes and all races. The books also must meet conventional standards of literacy and artistic excellence.
Winner in the Books for Younger Readers Category

Separate is Never Equal, written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh and published by Abrams Books for Young Readers. When Sylvia Mendez and her siblings enrolled in a new school system, they were told they must attend an inferior “school for Mexicans” because they were dirty, uneducated, and didn’t speak English –despite that all of these things were demonstrably untrue. Sylvia’s family worked tirelessly to unite the Latino community and bring an end to the segregation. Separate is Never Equal brings the story to life with illustrations done in a style meant to echo Mayan codex figures.

Winner in the Books for Older Readers Category

The Girl From the Tar Paper School by Teri Kanefield, also published by Abrams Books for Young Readers. Sixteen year old Barbara Rose Johns, a high school student, led a student walk out to protest racial inequality in the school system. It was the first public protest of its kind, and one of the cases that helped end segregation as part of Brown vs. the Board of Education.

Honor Books in the Younger Reader Category

Whispering Town, written by Jennifer Elvgren, illustrated by Fabio Santomauro, and published by Kar-Ben Publishing, tells the story of a young child in a small town in Nazi-occupied Denmark that united to smuggle Jews out of the country. Perfectly balancing the dread of the situation with the heroism of the townspeople, this book is an excellent introduction to the subject matter for young children.

Shooting at the Stars: The Christmas Truce of 1914, by John Hendrix, published by Abrams Books for Young Readers, tells the story of the Christmas Truce in the trenches of WWI. The powerful story conveys the futility of war and the powerlessness of individual soldiers who are nonetheless united in eking out a moment of shared humanity amid chaos.

Honor Books in the Books for Older Children category

Revolution, by Deborah Wiles, published by Scholastic Press, uses a unique format that incorporates primary source documents and song lyrics from the 1960’s with more conventional novel narration to tell the story of Freedom Summer through the eyes of young people whose worlds are turning upside down. Primarily told through the voice of Sunny, a young white girl, depth and perspective are added to the narrative through Raymond, a black boy, and a third-person narrator.

Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal, by Margarita Engle, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, is a complex book that uses free verse poetry to give a voice to the many lives touched by the creation of the Panama Canal including the workers from the Caribbean, indigenous people, employees from the U.S., and even the jungle itself, conveying a story of profound injustice and inequality – and a fight for basic human rights.

A national committee chooses winners and honor books for younger and older children. Members of the 2015 Jane Addams Children’s Book Award Committee are Marianne Baker (VA), Kathryn Bruce (TN), Ann Carpenter (chair, MA), Julie Olsen Edwards (CA), Susan Freiss (WI), Lani Gerson (MA), Jacqui Kolar (IL), Lauren Mayer (WA), Beth McGowan (IL), Mary Napoli (PA), Heather Palmer (MN), Ilza Garcia (TX), Sonja Cherry-Paul (NY). Regional reading and discussion groups of all ages participated with many of the committee members throughout the jury’s evaluation and selection process.

The 2015 Jane Addams Children’s Book Awards will be presented on Friday, October 16, 2015 in New York City. Details about the award event and about securing winner and honor book seals are available from the Jane Addams Peace Association (JAPA). Contact JAPA Executive Director Linda B. Belle, 777 United Nations Plaza, 6th Floor, NY, NY 10017-3521; by phone 212.682.8830; and by email japa@igc.org.
For additional information about the Jane Addams Children’s Book Awards and a complete list of books honored since 1953, see www.janeaddamspeace.org.

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22. "You Are Me," Says A Young Comedian

I got a high compliment recently from Middleton High School student Ali Khan, who told me, basically, that he was my mini-me. Last year, Ali created a trailer for my book OPEN MIC: RIFFS ON LIFE BETWEEN CULTURES IN TEN VOICES (Candlewick, 2013). Our approach in that anthology of adding humor to discussions of race strongly resonated with Ali, who happens to be hilarious (go ahead, watch the trailer he made).

Read On Wisconsin and the Cooperative Children's Book Center at the University of Wisconsin, Madison arranged an interview to bring us together to share thoughts on the book, racial identity, and humor. Here's an excerpt from the interview:

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23. 2015 South Asia Book Award Winners

Looking for a high-quality children's or young adult book published in the U.S.A. that portray South Asia or South Asians living abroad? Check out the South Asia Book Award.  To encourage and commend authors and publishers who produce such books, and to provide librarians and teachers with recommendations for educational use, the South Asia National Outreach Consortium (SANOC) offers a yearly book award to call attention to outstanding works on South Asia. Congratulations to this this year's winners.

2015 South Asia Book Award Winners

Twenty-Two Cents: Muhammad Yunus and the Village Bank by Paula Yoo, illustrated by Jamel Akib (Lee &Low Books Inc., 2014). Twenty-Two Cents smartly chronicles the life and inspiration behind Nobel Peace Prize winner, Muhammad Yunus, and the internationally transformative Grameen Bank’s micro-lending system. Coupled with rich illustrations that vibrantly capture the essence and depth of Yunus’ experiences, this poignant picture book easily lends itself to readers of all ages. Includes an afterword and author’s source notes. (Grades 2-5)
Bombay Blues
Bombay Blues by Tanuja Desai Hidier (PUSH, an imprint of Scholastic Press, 2014). The dense, chaotic, yet lyrical, pulse of daily life in Bombay collides with the dissonant, hip-hop sensibility of affluent, urban Indian youth in this story of Dimple, a young Indian-American woman’s journey of self-discovery. (Grades 10 and up)

 2015 Honor Winners

A Time to Dance
A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman (Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group, 2014). Skillfully told in verse, Veda’s inspirational story reveals an athletic young woman passionate about traditional Indian dance. When she loses a leg in an accident she must fight to determine her identity and future. (Grades 6 and up)
Chandra's Magic Light A Story in Nepal
Chandra’s Magic Light: A Story in Nepal by Theresa Heine; illustrated by Judith Gueyfier (Barefoot Books, 2014). Living in a traditional village in Nepal, young sisters pick and sell flowers at the market to earn money to buy a solar lamp which will help the air quality in their home. Soft complimentary illustrations. Excellent end notes. (Grades K-3)
God Loves Hair
God Loves Hair by Vivek Shraya; illustrated by Juliana Neufeld (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2014). A seemingly unconnected collection of beautifully written vignettes, tells the true story of a young Indian teen trying to find his place in the world. Shraya writes with intense honesty and insight about the cutting pain of not only being of a different race and religion, but also discovering that he is gay. Readers will be amazed by the author’s strength and resilience. (Grades 7 and up)
Secrets of the Sky Caves
Secrets of the Sky Caves: Danger and Discovery on Nepal’s Mustang Cliffs by Sandra K. Athans (Millbrook Press, 2014). The Mustang Cliffs in Nepal have been untouched for thousands of years. Discover how mountain climbers, archaeologists, scientists and historians all learned how to traverse the seemingly inaccessible “Sky Caves.” What secrets will these modern day adventurers discover – keys to an ancient civilization or simply plundered cave dwellings? (Grades 4-6)

2015 Highly Commended Books

A Pair of Twins
A Pair of Twins by Kavitha Mandana; illustrated by Nayantara Surendranath (Karadi Tales, 2014). A vibrantly illustrated and empowering tale of an Indian girl and her “twin,” an elephant born the same day, who bravely break down cultural and gender barriers while taking on roles historically restricted to males. (Grades K-3)
King for a Day
King for a Day by Rukhsana Khan; illustrated by Christiane Krömer (Lee & Low Books Inc., 2014). Despite being confined to a wheelchair, Malik endeavors to capture the most kites during Basant, the spring festival of kites in Lahore, Pakistan, and become “king” of this special day. Includes author’s note. (PreK-Grade 2)
Escape from Tibet
Escape from Tibet: A True Story by Nick Gray with Laura Scandiffio (Annick Press, 2014). Based on a true story, two brothers from Tibet embark on a dangerous journey to India in search of a better life. A thrilling story of courage and adventure, readers will delight in Tenzin and Pasang’s trek to freedom. (Grades 5-8)
Ms. Marvel Vol. 1: No Normal
Ms. Marvel Vol. 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson; illustrated by Adrian Alphona (Marvel Worldwide Inc., 2014). Kamala Khan is many things – a teenager, Pakistani-American, Muslim, Fangirl, and the super hero protector of Jersey City! How is she able to balance all these roles and be the perfect daughter to her parents? Can Kamala be the new Ms. Marvel and still honor her heritage? (Grades 5-8)
The Secret Sky

The Secret Sky by Atia Abawi (Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group, 2014). This classic tale of taboo love illuminates the cultural and political complexities of present-day Afghanistan. Wrought with tension and dreams of a brighter tomorrow, The Secret Sky humanizes a land often only ever heard about in news sound bites. (Grades 8 and up)

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24. Bay Area Book Festival This Weekend!

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25. Remembering Nepal: Children's Books to Inspire Engagement

This summer, as kids set up lemonade stands, car washes, and dog walking services, consider inspiring them to give a portion of their entrepreneurial proceeds to the children of Nepal.

Before the earthquakes, Nepalese were working fiercely to increase the literacy rate by building libraries across the country. Apart from our sorrow over the loss of life during and after the disaster, we also grieve a devastating setback in the country's efforts to progress in education.

We can help rebuild education and literacy in Nepal. Why not read a book featuring that beautiful Himalayan country with your children, Girl Scout/Boy Scout troop, summer reading program, Sunday School or Vacation Bible School class? Then encourage them to raise money for an organization working to rebuild libraries and literacy in response to the earthquakes. Check out a few choices below (reviews courtesy of School Library Journal), and please add more options for good books to read and organizations to support in the comments.

Books Set in Nepal

Chandra's Magic Light: A Story in Nepal by Theresa Heine (Author), Judith Gueyfier (Illustrator), published by Barefoot Books, May 2014.

K-Gr 3—While shopping in the marketplace, Chandra and her sister, Deena, watch a man selling solar lights. Because few have electricity, at home, Nepali families use tukis, or kerosene lamps, that are very smoky and produce unhealthy fumes. Although the solar lamp is expensive, the girls are certain that it would help quiet their baby brother's smoke-induced cough. They excitedly share the information about the "magic light" with their father. However, it isn't until he sees one working at a neighbor's house that he becomes interested. The new lamps cost more than the family has available, so the girls brainstorm ways they can earn the money. They decide to sell bunches of colorful rhododendrons that grow in the hills. Arriving early to market, Deena has time to tell Chandra a story of the sun god, Surya, and the moon god, Chandra. The young girl is proud to be named for such a powerful god. The girls' stall does well, and they are able to purchase the last solar light available. That night, their little brother sleeps and breathes peacefully. The full-color, mixed-media illustrations dominate the pages with vitality and detail. Thorough endnotes provide much information about Nepal, its people and solar power as well as instructions for making a solar oven. This tale of sibling compassion and ingenuity provides enough story for enjoyment alone but would also work well as an introduction to another culture and religion. — Sara-Jo Lupo Sites, George F. Johnson Memorial Library, Endicott, NY, School Library Journal

Namaste! by Diana Cohn (Author), Amy Cordova (Illustrator), published by Steiner Press, February 2013.

K-Gr 2 — Nima lives in the mountain country of Nepal. Every year her father has to leave to work as a mountain guide for climbers from around the world. The child and her mother part from him with prayers and rice offerings, and by placing a khata, the traditional shawl, around his neck for good luck. Then Nima walks to school. Along the way, she greets yaks, tourists, porters, traders, and Tibetan monks with a "Namaste" by bringing the palms of her hands together and bowing slightly. This greeting translates into "the light in me meets the light in you," and readers soon learn that Nima brings light to everyone around her. The vibrant folk-art illustrations showing the details of Nima's life in her village support the simple story perfectly. This beautiful book will appeal to primary readers and make an ideal addition to multicultural collections. An extensive glossary explains Nepalese terms, and an afterword gives background on Nepalese culture. — Monika Schroeder, American Embassy School, New Delhi, India, School Library Journal

I, Doko: The Tale of a Basket, written and illustrated by Ed Young, published by Philomel, November 2004.

K-Gr 3 – This fable begins at the marketplace, when a young father chooses a new basket for his family. Told from the point of view of the basket, the story proceeds as the baby boy grows up, the man's wife dies, and the son marries and has a family of his own. Through the years, the basket carries infants, crops, and even the woman's body to her grave; it becomes part of the family in a very fundamental way. At last, the father is a disabled old man and his son proposes to leave him at the temple so the priests will have to take care of him. The basket is consigned to carry him there, until the grandson intervenes with a haunting question that offers the moral of this traditional tale from Nepal. A quote from Kung Fu Tze in the sixth century B.C. opens the book: "What one wishes not upon oneself, one burdens not upon another." The simple text offers a splendid backdrop for the beautiful illustrations. Done in gouache, pastel, and collage, the pictures have graceful lines, subtle textures, and magnificent colors. With gold endpapers and gold edgings around each page, there's a timeless quality suited to the story. Lovely. – Lauralyn Persson, Wilmette Public Library, IL, School Library Journal

Sold by Patricia Mcormack, published by Hyperion Books for Children, 2008.

Gr 9-Up – As this heartbreaking story opens, 13-year-old Lakshmi lives an ordinary life in Nepal, going to school and thinking of the boy she is to marry. Then her gambling-addicted stepfather sells her into prostitution in India. Refusing to be with men, she is beaten and starved until she gives in. Written in free verse, the girls first-person narration is horrifying and difficult to read. In between, men come./They crush my bones with their weight./They split me open./Then they disappear. I hurt./I am torn and bleeding where the men have been. The spare, unadorned text matches the barrenness of Lakshmis new life. She is told that if she works off her familys debt, she can leave, but she soon discovers that this is virtually impossible. When a boy who runs errands for the girls and their clients begins to teach her to read, she feels a bit more alive, remembering what it feels like to be the number one girl in class again. When an American comes to the brothel to rescue girls, Lakshmi finally gets a sense of hope. An authors note confirms what readers fear: thousands of girls, like Lakshmi in this story, are sold into prostitution each year. Part of McCormicks research for this novel involved interviewing women in Nepal and India, and her depth of detail makes the characters believable and their misery palpable. This important book was written in their honor. – Alexa Sandmann, Kent State University, OH, School Library Journal

A film based on McCormick's award-winning novel, Sold: The Movie, produced by Emma Thompson, is available for screening. Here's the trailer.

Organizations working to (re)build literacy in Nepal

READ Nepal

READ has its roots in Nepal, where their first office opened in 1991 after a rural villager told the organization's founder that all he wanted for his village was a library. Since then they have opened READ Centers across the country, offering training programs in livelihood skills, literacy, health, and technology. With partner communities, READ has seeded sustaining enterprises that address community needs: from fish farming and turmeric farming to a community radio station. Almost 4,000 women participate in savings cooperatives at READ Centers in Nepal.

Room to Read Nepal

In 1998, Room to Read's Founder, John Wood, delivered his first few hundred books to a school high in the Himalayas, and the organization—then known as Books for Nepal—was born. Since then, Room to Read's local team has expanded operations in the country to include school libraries, reading and writing instruction, school construction, book publishing and girls’ education. They now work in both the Himalayan region and the lowlying Tarai flatlands to improve educational opportunities for Nepal's children.

Magic Yeti Children's Libraries

The Alex Lowe Charitable Foundation maintains seven rural libraries in Nepal, and is seeking to build more. Once books arrive in Nepal, volunteers sort through them and divide them between the libraries. Books are either flown or taken by truck to the trail head and then loaded onto yaks, dzopkyos, donkeys, horses or people who carry them to their remote destinations.

For an overview of Nepalese Children's Literature, check out History of Children’s Literature In Nepal by Biswambhar Ghimire (Chanchal), courtesy of the International Board of Books for Young People.

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