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Librarian and blogger Betsy Bird recently issued a call for books featuring "casual diversity," or a list of children’s books in which "diversity is just a part of everyday life." Here's my two cents:
Even (perhaps especially) in such “real world” books featuring characters with different ethnic backgrounds, the author and/or illustrator should think through carefully how that heritage would shape each character. Perhaps none of that background work that has informed the author’s imagination will be obvious to the reader in the final story or art, but our reflection, personal experience, and research will all affect the characters' depictions–and the child reader–in subtle ways.
Throwing in a character of color here or there to make your book more multicultural isn't a shortcut to representing all kinds of children in the real world. As authors and illustrators, the onus is on us to do the unseen work of listening, learning, and understanding, especially
because we write for children. What is "under the waterline" in us is bound to be revealed in our stories, and will inform what is "under the waterline" in our child readers.
I'm grateful to the American Library Association's Booklist and Dr. Amina Chaudhri for featuring me and my books in the January 2014 issue, with Common Core connections.
When challenged by others as to why he focuses on stories about foreigners working in African countries, New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof responds with the idea that "bridge" characters are needed to draw readers into a story.
The rules must be different in the world of global children's literature. Kristof makes two assumptions that don't work for me: first, that readers won't be able to connect with stories unless you include an American, and second, that his readers are
I've never included "bridge" foreigners in stories set outside North America. First, I trust young readers to connect with characters of a different culture. Second, since I grew up "between cultures," so I never assume that my reader is staunchly in the majority culture. I always ask how the story would be received by a child within that culture as well as by North American readers, and "outside saviors" seem to discourage rather than empower non-majority children.
Of course, this literary premise of needing "bridge" characters may be the reason why (a) global books don't sell well without a big gatekeeper push, and (b) I got rejected for years and years because I was submitting books without them.
What do you think? Does a "bridge" character in fiction draw you into a story? If books by authors like Jhumpa Lahiri and Khaled Hosseini didn't have anything or anybody "American" in them, would they have won such wide cultural favor?
Today in my "Race, Culture, and Power in Children's Stories" class at Saint Mary's College of California, we took a look at the winners of the 2014 ALA Youth Media Award, announced early this morning. We explored four questions:
- Do any of the winning books or honorees feature a main character belonging to a group that has endured oppression in North America due to race or culture?
- Are any of the winning books or honorees set in a non-Western country?
- Are any of the main characters from an economically powerless family or subculture?
- Did any of the winning authors/illustrators grow up on the margins of power when it comes to race, culture, and/or class?
Do these questions matter in children's stories? Setting aside the Coretta Scott King and Pura Belpré awards for a moment, how would you answer these questions?Note
: In my author hat, I'm thrilled for all of the winners and so proud to see children's books making headlines. Congratulations, one and all! But in teacher mode, I am encouraging a focus on marginalized and powerless children and so invite you to join the discussion.
Today I'm thrilled to host Gene Yang, one of the contributors to Open Mic Antholog
y (Candlewick), via skype in my Jan Term class at Saint Mary's College of California. My students have prepared questions to ask him, and here are a few:
- Do you find that because of your background as a Chinese-American, you have integrated your own characteristics into some of the characters? Especially because of your ancestry, do you feel a connection with the characters you have created?
- Have you ever been criticized for not having an authentic-enough experience to write your stories, considering you are Chinese-American? If yes, what is your response to critics?
- What made you write about the Boxer Rebellion? What is more special about this event than others in Chinese history that made you spend precious time on this subject?
- What kind of research did you have to do to make the story more authentic since you were originally born in California? Was your upbringing more American or Chinese and how did this contribute?
- How does your faith play a role when writing your stories?
Can't wait to hear Gene's answers. If you haven't read BOXERS AND SAINTS, I couldn't put it down. Historical fiction in graphic novel format is going to be my preference from this day forward. Here's some of what I wrote Gene after I finished it: "I love how Vidiana was able to protect her enemy with the Lord’s prayer. In the middle of such chaos and despair, you showed—with finesse and restraint—how one girl’s faith can make a difference. Thank you."
Once again, my Jan Term course at Saint Mary's College of California called "Race, Culture, and Power in Children's Stories" is underway. Here's the first part of my syllabus:
Why are children’s stories so powerful? Who has the right to tell stories about marginalized communities? This course will explore the question of authenticity in storytelling and unmask explicit and implicit messages about race, power, and culture communicated through books for young readers. A secondary course goal is to help students improve their analytical writing.
- Part One: The Subversive Power of Children’s Stories
- Part Two: Race in Children’s Stories
- Part Three: Culture in Children’s Stories
- Part Four: Power in Children’s Books
Alison Lurie, author of Don’t Tell The Grown-ups: The Subversive Power of Children’s Literature
makes this argument about how children’s books can affect the common good:
The great subversive works of children's literature suggest that there are other views of human life besides those of the shopping mall and the corporation. They mock current assumptions and express the imaginative, unconventional, noncommercial view of the world in its simplest and purest form. They appeal to the imaginative, questioning, rebellious child within all of us, renew our instinctive energy, and act as a force for change. This is why such literature is worthy of our attention and will endure long after more conventional tales have been forgotten.
On the flip side, children’s literature has also been a key part of state propaganda used by totalitarian and oppressive governments to impose certain social and moral codes on child readers. As Bruno Bettelheim argued in The Uses of Enchantment
, stories told to children powerfully shape their moral world. Children with a well-developed sense of justice and compassionate hearts widened by stories can significantly serve the common good. Storytelling is a powerful act, especially when it involves young hearts and minds. From Uncle Tom's Cabin
to Harry Potter
, books can either repudiate or encourage stereotypes and injustice.
Students will explore and debate five questions:
(1) BOOK COVERS
: Should young adult and middle grade novels depict faces on covers?
(2) BOOK AWARDS
: Should ethnic book awards be based on the race/ethnicity of the author/illustrator?
: Should certain children’s books be banned in homes and classrooms because of racism or cultural stereotyping?
: Should we “bowdlerize” children’s classics that—seen with today’s eyes—are racist, or let them stand and be read as is?
: Should a story be told only by a cultural “insider” to guarantee authenticity?
This year I'm privileged to introduce my 23 students via Skype to Gene Yuen Yang, award-winning author of BOXERS AND SAINTS, Stacy L. Whitman, editor at TU Books
, and Yolanda Leroy, editorial director of Charlesbridge
, via Skype. Since the theme of Jan Term 2014 is "metamorphoses
," students will be comparing the "hero's journeys" in two novels for middle grade or young adult readers, and analyze themes of race, culture, and power in each story.
Students debated the question of book covers yesterday, and here are the presentations for your consideration.THE CASE FOR NO FACES ON COVERS:
THE CASE FOR FACES ON COVERS:
It's not as cold out on the fire escape during the winter now that I live in California, but it's still a busy season with little time to read, write, or reflect. Sigh. Don't those three verbs sound lovely? I'll resume blogging in the New Year, but you may also follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, where I post more succinctly and frequently. Have a wonderful holiday season, friends.
If your kids are complaining about school, don't lecture them about the gift of an education. Instead, read them Razia's Ray of Hope: One Girl's Dream of an Education
by Elizabeth Suneby, illustrated by Suana Verelst (Kids Can Press, 9/13).
This inspiring story is about a brave girl in Afghanistan who must convince the men in her family to allow her to attend school. The author, Elizabeth Suneby
, was inspired by Razia Jan, one of CNN’s 2012 Top 10 Heroes of the Year
. Jan founded the Zabuli Education Center
outside Kabul, near villages where there had never been a school for girls.
Instead of telling us information about the school from an insider's perspective, Suneby introduces us to another Razia, a girl who gazes longingly at the school from the outside. Details about life in Afghanistan are seamlessly woven into the story. As they cheer for Razia on her brave quest, American children might begin to understand the value of an education and why so many of their counterparts in other countries desperately desire it.
I'm delighted to announce the winner of the 11th annual Mitali's Fire Escape Teens Between Cultures Prose Contest. In the past, I've award three prizes (first, second, third), but this year I decided to pick only one. Here it is—enjoy.
Bridging the Gap
by Tran D., Age 16
I'm proud to showcase the nine authors who collaborated with me on OPEN MIC: RIFFS ON LIFE BETWEEN CULTURES IN TEN VOICES (an anthology published 9.10.13 by Candlewick Press). Publishers Weekly had this to say about our book:
... As Perkins notes, “Humor has the power to break down barriers and draw us together across borders,” and the stories within bear that out ... In “Under Berlin,” written in verse, G. Neri describes a “game” that a biracial American family plays on the German subway: seeing how quickly two elderly white women will change seats after the black father sits between them ...
Today I'm delighted to introduce you to my friend Greg Neri, author of "Under Berlin," a story in verse that's eighth in the OPEN MIC lineup. Here are a few paragraphs from the middle of the piece that showcase Greg's mastery of voice:
"Why can't we take a taxi?" I ask.
"You all gonna pay for it, Reina? asks Daddy,
his southern twang
more out of place
than we are.
We move slowly across the platform,
pushing into the overcrowded train car.
"Sure, I'll pay,
just as soon as I start my own
I can still smell it from here.
My brother, Oscar laughs. "Yeah, right."
I stare at his pudgy face,
trying not to get squished
by the rush-hour stampede.
"What's so funny?" I say.
Oscar laughs again.
"A black American girl
servin' up German sausage?
Sure, that's not funny
"I'm not black," I say.
Greg's award-winning books range from graphic novels to novellas in free verse, including Chess Rumble
, Ghetto Boy
, Surf Mules
, and Yummy
"Some people are curious about my ethnic background," says Greg. "Well, I'm Mexican, Filipino and Creole (French, African, Spanish, Native American) or as we say Crefilican-American or more accurately Nafranishafripinocan (go figure). Actually, I feel I am a great example of globalization. The Mexican side covers the Hispanic countries, Filipino represents Asia, Creole covers Europe, Africa and North America."
Find out more about Greg and his work by following him on twitter
or by visiting his site.
I'm delighted to announce the winner of the 11th annual Mitali's Fire Escape Teens Between Cultures Poetry Contest. In the past, I've award three prizes (first, second, third), but last year I decided to pick only one and I'm doing the same this year. This made judging the contest harder than ever. After a long decision-making process, please enjoy the 2013 Fire Escape Teens Between Cultures Poetry Contest winner.
by Alice L.
I grew up in the Midwest
Where oceans of gold-streaked cornfields
Swayed under the sun
And skies stretched like weary skin,
Wrinkled with seasons.
The Midwest grew recessive eyes
Almost as easily as it grew corn.
Among the fair-haired, blue-eyed children,
I was always a stranger, an alien –
A creature of far-away origins.
I could never be one of them.
We were separated by something
I could not quite understand then.
It was not so much that strangers questioned
My dark hair and epicanthic folds
And the slight lilt of my tongue.
It was more because
My parents carried a thousand years of forgotten names:
Ancestors from ancient Asia’s silk scrolls and dust cities
Came to haunt me in our common memory,
Lingering traces in the wirings of our thoughts,
Burdens, maybe, both curses and gifts.
Inevitably, burdens became my legacy:
Beautiful histories no one could remember,
A language of four thousand dusty characters
Whose limbs changed every five centuries or so,
Wars and kingdoms and Confucius –
One summer I grew an invisible third eye
And I sat in the dark,
Sipping otherworldly memories like jasmine tea.
I carried English words like they were my own –
But in the dark,
Strange emotions danced footprints across my heart.
I tangled two languages together trying to explain them.
But I could not.
On growing up between cultures
The hardest thing about balancing two cultures is figuring out how to incorporate both cultures into part of my identity. I'm very proud of my Chinese-American identity, but I constantly ask myself what I can do to better become both halves of my identity. I want to be as authentically American as possible, and I also want to be as authentically Chinese as possible. I want to feel like I really am a part of both cultures. How does one be completely two cultures? The best thing about balancing two cultures is the ability to flow between the two and understand the culture of both. I'm an example of the "tossed salad" (not "melting pot") American kid.
"Chinese Barbie" courtesy of FreddyCat1, via Creative Commons. Stay tuned for the prose contest winner!
I'm continuing to showcase the nine authors who collaborated with me on OPEN MIC: RIFFS ON LIFE BETWEEN CULTURES IN TEN VOICES
(an anthology published 9.10.13 by Candlewick Press). The Bulletin for the Center of Children's Books recently had this to say about our book:
often said that good literature for young people can act as a mirror to
one’s own experiences and a window into others’—this anthology fills
the bill, providing an accessible assessment of contemporary race
relations, while also being as honest, refreshing, and frank as the
titular open mic suggests.
Today I'm delighted to introduce you to my friend Varian Johnson, author of "Like Me," a short story that's sixth in the OPEN MIC lineup and is especially "honest, refreshing, and frank." Here are the first few paragraphs to lure you:
"Griff, snap out of it," Evan says, jabbing his elbow into my rib cage. "You're missing the newbies."
I glance at Evan—trying to ignore the scraggly reddish-brown "soul patch" on this chin—then turn to follow his gaze. A mob of girls, huddled together like starry-eyed lambs heading to the slaughter, make their way across the quad with Principal Greer herding them along. With their blinding-white blouses and heavily starched skirts, they look like rejects from an episode of Gossip Girl.
Of course, my blazer and slacks would fit in the show just fine. As Principal Greer says, we're all cut from the same cloth here.
Varian's award-winning books include Saving Maddie
(Delacorte / Random House, 2010), My Life as a Rhombus
(Flux / Llewellyn, 2008) and A Red Polka Dot in a World Full of Plaid
(Genesis Press, 2005). He was born and raised in Florence, South
Carolina, and attended the University of Oklahoma, where he received a
BS in Civil Engineering.
Varian later attended the Vermont College of
Fine Arts, where he received an MFA in Writing for Children and Young
Adults. He's also the co-founder of The Brown Bookshelf
one of my favorite sites that highlights established and
up-and-coming African-American authors of children’s and young adult
literature. Today he lives and writes in Austin, Texas.
"I was the typical high-school geek," he says. "I played the baritone in the marching band, was a member of the Academic Challenge Team, and counted my Hewlett-Packard 48G as one of my most prized possessions."
Find out more about Varian and his work by following him on twitter
(highly recommended — his engaging and delightful voice is showcased sweetly on social media).
You're invited to two discussions, one virtual and one in real life. First, please read and comment on my guest post at the Children's Books Council Diversity Blog: "Is the Race Card Old School?" Here's an excerpt:
... Why does race trump in North America when it comes to a discussion about authenticity and fiction? My best guess is that we adults are stuck in that particular paradigm of identity. Race takes primacy when it comes to how we see others and how we see ourselves. In our minds, it still parallels the deeper question of power at the heart of this conversation, because the appropriation of story is a powerful act. And perhaps we’re (sort of) right ...
If you'd like this kind of dialogue in real life, as well as some intimate, face-to-face time with editors Cheryl Klein (Scholastic) and Stacy Whitman (Tu Books | Lee and Low), agent Regina Griffin, and authors Sundee Frazier (BRENDAN BUCKLEY'S SIXTH-GRADE EXPERIMENT) and Eliot Shrefer (ENDANGERED), please join us at the Highlights Foundation workshop, "Writing Across Boundaries
," this October 27-30. Scholarships are available!
For any writer it’s a challenge to write across gender, culture, or race. You worry that you won’t know the subtleties of the language or the mannerisms of the characters. You wonder if it’s even your story to tell. This workshop will help you identify and address the difficulties and joys of writing across boundaries.
Join our award-winning faculty as they give you tips on research, tell you how to put yourself in the characters’ shoes, and discuss the issues to consider in language and milieu. Our special guest editor will give you insight into editorial questions considered with a novel written across boundaries. You’ll leave with a richer understanding of how to write an authentic voice that resounds for readers.
During the class, you’ll workshop the first ten pages, so please submit those pages two weeks prior to the workshop. Additionally, bring a summary and up to fifty pages of your novel to the workshop for reference and to use in workshop exercises.
Begins with dinner on Sunday, October 27, and ends with lunch on Wednesday, October 30, followed by an optional tour of Highlights for Children and Boyds Mills Press at 1:30 p.m.
Not many third daughters like me see the light of day in my native land. I'd like to see this film.
I'm so proud of the nine authors who collaborated with me on OPEN MIC: RIFFS ON LIFE BETWEEN CULTURES IN TEN VOICES (an anthology published 9.10.13 by Candlewick Press). I'll be featuring each of them in alphabetical order over the next month or so on the Fire Escape.
Today, I'm delighted to introduce you to the one and only Cherry Chevapravatdumrong (Cheva), author of "Talent Show," a short story that is third in the OPEN MIC lineup. Here's the first paragraph to whet your appetite:
Question: There are two high-school juniors in a room. They're waiting to audtion for the talent show. One is an Asian girl. The other is a white guy. One is tuning a violin. The other fiddles with a scrap of paper containing notes from a stand-up comedy act.
Which one is which?
Yeah, I know what you'd say. That's what I'd say, too, except that I happened to be the guy. Holding the violin.
Originally from Ann Arbor, Michigan, Cherry is the author of two novels, She's so Money
, and the co-author, with Alex Borstein, of It Takes A Village Idiot, and I Married One
. She lives in Los Angeles, California, and is a writer and producer for Family Guy.
If you've never watched the show, here's what Fox had to say about it:
Entering its 11th season, FAMILY GUY continues to entertain fans with its shocking humor, infamous cutaway gags and epic episodes. Since its debut, the show has reached cult status among fans, and its breakout star, a talking baby, has become one of the greatest TV villains of all time. FAMILY GUY has racked up numerous awards, including an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Comedy Series, only the second animated series in television history to be honored with such a distinction.
"A lot of people watching the Family Guy
credits think my name is fake," says Cherry. "It's not. It's just Thai."
Contact or find out more about the marvelous Cherry Cheva:
Today is launch day for OPEN MIC: RIFFS ON LIFE BETWEEN CULTURES IN TEN VOICES (Candlewick Press)! I'm so proud of the authors who contributed to this anthology that I'm featuring each of them, one per day, on the Fire Escape, starting tomorrow.
Teacher's Guide coming soon!
Happy Book Birthday to all of us! To celebrate with us, why not "like" our page on Facebook: facebook.com/openmicanthology? Would love to hear your thoughts about the book if you get a chance to read it.
"[Open Mic] will leave readers thinking about the ways that humor can be a survival tool in a world that tends to put people in boxes." — Publishers Weekly
"Naomi Shihab Nye offers an eloquent poem about her Arab American dad, whose open friendliness made him 'Facebook before it existed.' David Yoo, Debbie Rigaud, Varian Johnson, and Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich also contribute stories to this noteworthy anthology, which robustly proves Perkins’ assertion that 'funny is powerful.'” — Horn Book Magazine
"Teachers will find some powerful material here about how the young can become discomfited and find solace in their multifaceted cultural communities." — School Library Journal
"...David Yoo’s excellent 'Becoming Henry Lee' is the one that will probably elicit the most laughs. But all invite sometimes rueful smiles or chuckles of recognition. And all demonstrate that in the specific we find the universal, and that borders are meant to be breached." — ALA Booklist
Looking forward to Dark Girls, a documentary releasing 9.24.13. Shadeism/colorism is an important aspect of the conversation about race. South Asian girls hear the same stuff about dark skin, and it's sickening. We have another compelling argument about why good stories for and about all kinds of children are so crucial, and can reveal the truth about beauty.
Looking for children's books featuring Syria? So am I. Fiction, especially, seems scarce. I managed to find one novel for teens written two decades ago, and another newer one which I discussed on the Fire Escape in 2007. (If you know of any other titles, please leave them in the comments section of this post.)
A Hand Full of Stars
by Rafik Schami, translated by Rika Lesser, Winner of the Batchelder Award.
"This unusual novel, written in the form of a diary, tells the story of four years in the life of a Damascan boy. When he begins his account, the narrator spends his days playing with his friends and dreaming of becoming a journalist. Like many American boys, the diarist worries about his schoolwork and his girlfriend, but he must also cope with difficulties unfamiliar to his American contemporaries. Military coups are frequent occurrences and many of the neighborhood men have been sent to jail on the slimmest of pretexts. Taken out of school to work in his father's bakery, the boy finds another way to pursue his ambition by starting an underground newspaper. This multifaceted work is at once a glimpse into a different culture, a plea for the right to free speech and a highly readable tale, as full of fun as it is of melancholy." — Publishers Weekly
, Ages 12-up.
In the Name of God
(Roaring Brook Press, 2007) by Paula Jolin.
"Jolin's powerful and timely first novel transports readers to present-day Syria and explores how the hatred that young people feel towards Americans seems to fuel their willingness to become suicide bombers. Nadia, a respectable hijabi girl, lives in Damascus, where she fasts, prays, reads the Qur'an and covers her head. She is disgusted with her cousins' acceptance of Western culture ('Once again, Western values were intruding into my world and I was powerless to stop them'). Like her cousin Fowzi, Nadia believes that America's support of Israel and their fight against terrorism is contributing to the unstable conditions in Syria. Many young people, unable to find professional jobs, must seek work elsewhere, either in Emirates or the United States ('enemy number 2,' behind Israel). Fowzi tells them, 'How can you be responsible to the Muslims when you live in a state that's attacking them?' After Fowzi is arrested, Nadia feels compelled to fight against the American influences that resulted in his arrest, and agrees to be a suicide bomber. Readers will see that underneath Nadia's extremist idealism there is also a young woman with a romantic notion of saving her country, who doesn't fully realize the overwhelming consequences her actions will have on her family until it is almost too late. Though at times readers may feel they are being taught, this informative novel will get them thinking about another point of view." — Publishers Weekly
, Ages 14-up.
Last month, Syrian children from the Zataari refugee camp in Jordan talked to the Guardian about their experiences during the civil war. As always, it's worth listening to the most vulnerable of voices:
Want to find out more? Books for Syria
is producing fiction for the kids in the refugee camps, and a picture book called FAR FROM HOME by UK-based Samah Zaitoun has been a hit
Also, the Arab Children's Literature Programme provides information about children's books in Syria, including a list of children's book authors and illustrators based in that country. And if you have no idea what's been happening in Syria recently, here's a good introduction from the Washington Post.
I'm delighted to invite my (Facebook) friend, Ali Seidabadi, to the Fire Escape to chat about the current state of children's books in Iran. Before you read the interview, pause to reflect on what comes to mind when you think of Iran. Then read on. Is anything in the interview surprising to you? (For example, that The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie is sometimes banned here, but not in Iran ...)
Ali, thank you so much for joining me. Here's my first question: What is the climate in Iran for the creation of children's stories?
Most people in the world have a political/media-formed image of Iran in mind, but there are many cultural, artistic, and literary activities going on in Iran. There are a great number of authors and illustrators for children’s and young adult’s books. All the same, due to political obstacles, it has unfortunately become impossible to establish cultural and literary relationships with most other countries. People in English-speaking countries, particularly in the USA, are not familiar with Iranian children’s books.
|99% positive reviews on|
Another barrier is language. Iranian artists (unlike writers) have little difficulty. For example, a great number of children’s book illustrators from Iran take part in international exhibitions, such as that of Bologna, Bratislava, etc. every year. Another example is the Iranian film industry, which is represented in various film festivals. A Separation,
directed by Asghar Farhadi, even won an academy award and was publicly screened in America.
I hope that in the newly-created atmosphere and also in the light of a strengthened relationship between the two countries, American people will get more acquainted with Iranian children’s books as well.
Who are some of Iran's best storytellers for children, past and present?
Children’s literature in Iran goes back several thousands of years, but most of the ancient texts do not bear the names of their writers. The works of influential literary figures from ancient Iran who were also great story-tellers such as Rumi, Ferdowsi, etc. have always been read to children and young adults.
In a modern era, starting 200 years ago, a new kind of children’s literature has been created. One of the most prominent story-writers of Iran is Samad Behrangi, whose strange life and death has made him a legend. His book entitled The Little Black Fish
, illustrated by Farshid Mesghalli, won the Hans Christian Andersen award and is well-known.
Other Iranian authors are Hooshang Moradi Kermani, some of whose works have been translated to English, and Ahmadreza Ahmadi who was shortlisted for a Hans Christian Andersen award. Some younger writers have also appeared in the recent decades whose works, in my opinion, are better than their predecessors.
What are some of your favorite recent books published in Iran for children?
It might seem strange to you, but many recent books by American authors are translated and published in Iran. I have read numerous works written by today’s American writers. For example, last year I read two books by Brian Selznick, and you might find it interesting to know that his Hugo
won a golden Flying Turtle award in Iran.
I have read Persian translations of books by Lee Wardlaw, Han Nolan, Lois Lowry, Peter H. Reynolds, and Sharon Creech, and I know that many Iranian children admire their works too.
A translation recently published in Iran that I like extremely well is that of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
by Sherman Alexie.
Unfortunately, Iran is not a member of the Copyright Convention
, and these books get published without notifying their writers and original publishers. Some Iranian publishers and translators have tried in recent years to pay the copyright prior to publishing the translations even though Iran is not a member of this convention. However, some American and British publishers are not interested in establishing relations with Iran due to political issues. I hope that such problems will vanish in the new atmosphere.
Have you read any good children's books about Iran published outside of the country?
Yes, I have read some good books that have been in some way related to Iran or Iranian stories and published in foreign countries. Some of these books have been written by those of Iranian descent and some by others. Among them, I can name two books —Shadow Spinner
and Alphabet of Dreams
by Susan Fletcher — which are both well-written and very appealing. The location of one of Ms. Fletcher’s books is Iran, but ancient Iran, and the story takes place at the time Jesus Christ was born.
Thank you so much for your open and encouraging answers, Ali. Last but not least, what is your view about an American writing a book set in Iran, featuring Iranian characters? Any thoughts or advice for that writer?
My advice to an author who wants to write about Iran is to pay attention to the fact that the image projected by the media is not a precise image of Iran
. Regardless of that identity and the global voice of our government, we Iranians are like the rest of the world in that we love life and peace.
Ali Seidabadi lives in Tehran with his wife and their two children. His wife is a journalist. Until two years ago, Ali was also a reformist journalist besides working on children’s literature. In the newspapers where he last worked, he was a member of the editorial board and the editor of the culture group. Ali is the editor of the only Iranian journal that deals specifically with children’s literature: Research Quarterly for Children’s and Young Adult Literature. He has written more than 30 books for children and young adults, some of which have won non-governmental recognized awards in Iran and have been translated into other languages.
releases September 10th from Candlewick, and the reviews are beginning to come in.
From The Horn Book,
where it was the review
of the week:
"...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.'”
From ALA Booklist
"...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."
From Publisher's Weekly
"...will leave readers thinking about the ways that humor can be a survival tool in a world that tends to put people in boxes."
The book is a Junior Library Guild
Also, The Horn Book
asked me five questions
about the anthology, and the esteemed organization Children's Book Council showed
Here's the audio version
from Brilliance. Watch for a series of blog posts featuring the contributors to the anthology, pictured below:
|Top Row: Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, Greg Neri, Debbie Rigaud, Gene Yang, Naomi Shihab Nye|
Bottom Row: Me, Cherry Chevapravatdumrong, Varian Johnson, Francisco X. Store, David Yoo
Exciting times, friends. In case you're curious, here are my three "ground rules" when it comes to the intersection of race and comedy, explored further in the introduction to the anthology:
1. Poke fun at the powerful, not the weak.
2. Build affection for the “other” instead of alienating us from somebody different.
3. Be self-deprecatory.
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If you're an aspiring writer of books for young readers, my first piece of advice would be to join the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. This 22,000-member strong group will provide opportunities to hone the craft, meet editors and agents, and become part of our supportive community of writers and illustrators. I've been a card-carrying member for twenty years.
Today, SCBWI announced the winners of their annual work-in-progress grants, given to unpublished authors.
Mary Ann Scott | The Unfolding of Ripley Kent
Runner-up: Margo Rabb | Kissing in America
Jocelyn Leigh Rish | The Drama Queen Who Cried Wolf
Runner-up: Rebecca Louie | Tru U
Suzanne Linn Kamata | Indigo Girl
Runner-up: Natasha Tarpley | Alchemist Bread
Patrice Sherman | The Vitamin Sleuths: A Tale of Mystery, Medicine and Nutrition
Runner-up: Suzanne Slade | The Music in George’s Head
Anna Cross Giblin Award
Caren Stelson | Sachiko
Barbara Karlin Award
Elizabeth Coburn | Captain Bilgewater and the Buccaneer Ballet
Runner-up: Karol Ruth Silverstein | Other
Unpublished Author Award
David Arnold | Mosquitoland
Congratulations to the winners and runner-ups! If you're curious, like I was, the "multicultural" grant was established in 2010, and is not dependent on the race/ethnicity of the author but awarded to "any work focused on multicultural/minority issues, including picture books."
One of the most encouraging signs of change since I've been in this vocation was the establishment of the Children's Book Council Diversity Committee
in January 2012.
Here's their mission statement:
The CBC Diversity Committee is one of five committees established by the Children's Book Council, the national nonprofit trade association for children's trade book publishers. We are dedicated to increasing the diversity of voices and experiences contributing to children’s and young adult literature. To create this change, we strive to build awareness that the nature of our society must be represented within the children’s publishing industry.
Many of us have been yipping and yapping about these issues for years, so to watch movers and shakers within the industry gather to advocate for young people on the margins has been nothing short of thrilling. Here's a list of the editors and marketing folk currently serving on the committee:
- Alvina Ling (Chair), Executive Editorial Director, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
- Daniel Ehrenhaft, Editorial Director, Soho Teen/Soho Press
- Antonio Gonzalez, Assoc Marketing Manager, Author Visits, Scholastic
- Connie Hsu, Editor, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
- Wendy Lamb, VP and Publishing Director, Wendy Lamb Books/Random House Children's Books
- Daniel Nayeri, Digital Editorial Director, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children's Books
- Andrea Davis Pinkney, VP and Executive Director of Trade, Scholastic
- Caroline Sun, Senior Publicity Manager, Integrated Marketing HarperCollins Children's Books
- Namrata Tripathi, Executive Editor, Atheneum/Simon and Schuster
- Liz Waniewski, Executive Editor, Dial/Penguin Books for Young Readers
Ayanna Coleman, librarian and CBC staff liaison,
works diligently and excellently to coordinate the Committee's events and news. If you know any of these people, why not extend a word of thanks? Also, each week, CBC Diversity rounds up relevant news in children's books and diversity. Sign up here
to receive these enlightening emails.
I'm proud to be a part of The Drum: A Literary Magazine for your Ears with my spoken essay, "Writing Race in Novels." Other than noting that I talk too fast (should have been an auctioneer), I'd like to hear your thoughts and responses to my piece.
Many of us heard about the tragic Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh last spring, but here's another horrible connection between the garment industry and suffering in that beautiful country: pollution so bad that it's sickening the children and destroying the land.
On July 15, Jim Yardley of the New York Times reported on this tragic situation:
Bangladesh’s garment and textile industries have contributed heavily to what experts describe as a water pollution disaster, especially in the large industrial areas of Dhaka, the capital. Many rice paddies are now inundated with toxic wastewater. Fish stocks are dying.
After you read the entire article, head to your closet and check your labels. Do any report that they're "made in Bangladesh?" Mine do. "I've created jobs in Bangladesh," I used to think to justify such cheap purchases. But are these jobs creating more suffering than they're eradicating?
The garment industry is far behind other fair trade movements. Fair Trade USA, which helped to reform the global coffee economy, recently added this category
to their rigorously approved "products and partners" list, but the list is sparse. Let's help it to grow by buying these clothes
instead of these:
Brief notes about Bangladesh (and me):
Bangladesh is the most densely populated country and the 8th most populous country in the world. My parents were both born there. My book for upper elementary readers, Rickshaw Girl
(Charlesbridge), is set there. My husband, sons, and I lived in Dhaka for three years. Most people speak Bengali, my mother tongue. It's poor, but here's some good news:
The World Bank quietly announced that Bangladesh reduced the number of people living in poverty from 63 million in 2000 to 47 million in 2010.
Do you know of any other books to share with your children or students about Bangladesh? If so, please leave them in the comments.
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After a huge cross-country move, it's tough to get back into writing mode. Yesterday, on a desperate hunt for inspiration, I searched for "Bamboo People" on twitter just to see if anybody had been reading it. (Come on, fellow writers, confess your google and social media searches -- it's a lonely vocation.) To my delight, I discovered an exchange that was even more lovely because these teens had no idea a certain discouraged writer might overhear it. Thanks to them, I'm suddenly ready to get back into my TIGER BOY revision.