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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?
Charlesbridge provides stellar discussion and activity guides for my books, and here's the new one for TIGER BOY to prove my point.
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!
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.
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 NepalChandra'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 JournalNamaste!
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 JournalI, 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 JournalSold
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 NepalREAD 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.
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.
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)
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 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 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 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: 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 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
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: 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
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 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)
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:
JANE ADDAMS CHILDREN’S BOOK AWARDS ANNOUNCED 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 email@example.com.
For additional information about the Jane Addams Children’s Book Awards and a complete list of books honored since 1953, see www.janeaddamspeace.org.
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
- Charlesbridge Publishing, Inc.
- Disney Publishing Worldwide
- Five Star Publications, Inc.
- HarperCollins Children’s Books
- Kane Miller, a division of EDC Publishing
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
- Nobrow (Flying Eye Books)
- Penguin Young Readers Group (Nancy Paulsen Books)
- Random House Children’s Books
“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.
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!
I sat on a library panel this week with four other YA authors. I'd had a busy day, and was irritable already. I probably should have sat back, listened, and shut up, but of course I did no such thing.
"Do you purposefully put messages in your books?" someone in the audience asked.
"Do you feel you must censor yourself to any extent because you're writing for young people?" another attendee asked.
A few of the other panelists responded, and the consensus seemed to be a rousing no to both questions. They talked about the freedom we need to create good art, the disaster of didactic fiction, and the mandate to trust our young readers. They sounded so cool, and so right. But I've already told you I was feeling contrary. Without much thought, I leaped into the conversation.
I've been ruminating on why I erupted with such fervor and decided to air my responses out here on the Fire Escape. I'd love your comments and thoughts. Do you resonate with any of these statements/questions—all of which popped into my head, and some out of my mouth (more inarticulately than below)—and if so, which ones and why?
On putting "message" in our books:
"Aren't all stories containers for worldview, messages, and morals, even if it's the view that the world is morally uncertain? A belief that there are no definitive answers is a particular philosophy. An author's reluctance to convey any morals or ideologies doesn't mean a story isn't saturated with them. And if the head isn't in charge of weaving your worldview into a story, the gut will do it for you."
On writing more carefully for children than for adults:
"Children's stories are more powerful conveyers of worldview because a child is in the process of formation. Don't we have a responsibility as adults to discern the hidden as well as overt messages in children's stories, even our own? Shouldn't we steer them away from the 'danger of a single story,' for example, about certain kinds of people?"
"Is there a right 'age of consent' for young people to roam freely in the world of stories? Is a parent solely to decide or are we in the wider community of adult writers, publishers, and educators also called to defend young minds and hearts? If so, shouldn't we pay closer attention to our stories and perhaps limit our freedom more than artists who produce works for adults?"
Wow, was I cranky. But what do you think? I don't mind you showing me why and how I was off. Or on. Or both. Don't hold back.
|Happy Book Birthday to my new novel for young readers, TIGER BOY, set in the Sunderbans region of West Bengal, India! The publication date was picked months ago, and we had no idea that it would release on Bengali New Year's Day. It's the year 1422, people! Congratulations also to Jamie Hogan, the book's illustrator.|
|The Bengal tiger is even more breathtaking up close. This was taken in Chiang Mai, Thailand, in the Tiger Preserve.|
|Even the binding of the book is beautiful. Thank you, Charlesbridge.|
|Introducing Neel and his sister Rupa. Illustration courtesy of Jamie Hogan.|
If you're in the San Francisco Bay Area 4/18 or in the Boston area 4/26 , you're invited to a book launch party
You're invited to the launch of TIGER BOY, a new novel for upper elementary readers by Mitali Perkins, illustrated by Jamie Hogan. We'll celebrate all things tiger as we travel (via imagination) to the Sunderbans region of West Bengal, India.
East Coast: Sunday, April 24, 4 p.m., Newtonville Books, 10 Langley Rd, Newton Centre, MA 02459
★ (School Library Journal) Gr 3-6–Set in the lush Sundarbans natural region of Bengal, this quiet, gripping tale emphasizes the deep but often fragile connection that exists between humans and nature ... Perkins avoids black-and-white characterizations and compassionately illustrates how dire circumstances affect a person’s choices. Young readers will revel in the vivid action and suspense surrounding Neel and his sister Rupa’s quest to locate the tiger cub. Adults will likely praise the novel’s simple and clear narrative, which belies its complexity around issues related to climate change, poor economic conditions, class structure, and gender discrimination.
With TIGER BOY releasing in April, I've been waiting nervously (as usual) for first reviews. My family and friends seem to like it, but there's a mysterious power either to uplift or devastate in responses written by experts in the field. That's why I was delighted when Kirkus
said this last week:
The Kolkata-born author visited the remote Sunderbans in the course of her research. She lovingly depicts this beautiful tropical forest in the context of Neel’s efforts to find the cub and his reluctance to leave his familiar world ... the sense of place is strong and the tiger cub’s rescue very satisfying. Pastel illustrations will help readers envision the story. A multicultural title with obvious appeal for animal-loving middle graders.
Today I was thrilled when Charlesbridge told me School Library Journal
is giving the book a STARRED REVIEW (all-caps, hooray, yippee) in their February issue. The reviewer beautifully captures my hopes for the book:
Gr 3-6–Set in the lush Sundarbans natural region of Bengal, this quiet, gripping tale emphasizes the deep but often fragile connection that exists between humans and nature ... Perkins avoids black-and-white characterizations and compassionately illustrates how dire circumstances affect a person’s choices. Young readers will revel in the vivid action and suspense surrounding Neel and his sister Rupa’s quest to locate the tiger cub. Adults will likely praise the novel’s simple and clear narrative, which belies its complexity around issues related to climate change, poor economic conditions, class structure, and gender discrimination."
"If you were living in another country and heard that lots of Americans were hungry, would you leave behind your own safety and comfort to return here and serve?"
"If you asked a lot of people for help once you got here and they all said no, would you give up? Or would you try and come up with a way to solve the problem without their help?"
"What's the difference between a celebrity and a hero?"
Before reading TWENTY-TWO CENTS: MUHAMMAD YUNUS AND THE VILLAGE BANK
by Paula Yoo
(Lee and Low) to a group of fifth-graders, I might start by asking questions like these. Then I would launch into the story, letting their eyes linger on the beautiful paintings by Jamel Akib
. I agree with Publisher's Weekly
: "In detailed and inviting prose, Yoo shares the story of activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Yunus, beginning with his childhood ... Akib’s grainy, jewel-toned chalk pastels contrast a sense of scarcity and deprivation with one of warmth and humanity. Yoo makes the significance of Yunus’s contributions understandable, relevant, and immediate."
Without overstating Yunus' humble and yet not impoverished background, Yoo and Akib make it clear that this world-changer didn't come from privilege. Children in all circumstances will be inspired by Yunus' life and by the difference he has made throughout the planet. I pay attention to cultural details about my own Bengali heritage, and Akib didn't disappoint with his accurate depiction of practices like giving and receiving with the right hand, squatting to chat, and sitting cross-legged to learn. In the final pages, he paints a panel of proud young brown women whose faces and postures speak volumes about empowerment and hope.
It's been a while since I read a biography aimed for children, but after enjoying this one so much I'm going to look for more. I remember discovering a series in the library when I was in fourth or fifth grade called “The Childhood of Famous American Series” from Bobbs-Merrill. Looking back, I'm surprised by how many world-changing women were featured: I read about Clara Barton, Susan B. Anthony, and Louisa May Alcott. All the books began with a person my age or so who went on to change the world, and as I devoured them I began to imagine trying to make my own mark.
I invited Paula to chat with me on the Fire Escape about creating the book and about the power of biography to inspire and inform. Read on to enjoy her brilliance.Welcome, my multi-talented friend. Your website is a dizzying display of diverse talent—music, children's books, television writing. You're a celebrity in your own right. Okay, let's start with an easy question: why did you want to write this biography?Jason Low of Lee and Low Books first approached me about the life of Muhammad Yunus as a possible children's picture book biography. He suggested I read Professor Yunus' autobiography, BANKER TO THE POOR: MICRO-LENDING AND THE BATTLE AGAINST WORLD POVERTY (Public Affairs, 2008). I read this book in one day—I was mesmerized by Professor Yunus' passion and dedication towards helping others left fortunate. His colorful childhood and awakening as an activist inspired me. I agreed with Jason that Muhammad Yunus would make for a great biography to inspire children to learn about compassion and generosity.What kind of research did you do for the book?
I read several more books and newspaper/magazine articles about Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank. I also interviewed historians and professors who teach college courses about the history and culture of Bangladesh. Most importantly, I had the honor of meeting and interviewing Muhammad Yunus himself when he visited Los Angeles. It was such a privilege to sit down with Professor Yunus and hear his thoughts on how to eradicate world poverty.He has a wonderful sense of humor, doesn't he? I met him briefly years ago when I was living in Dhaka at the book launch party of a dear friend, Alex Counts, the author of Small Loans, Big Dreams: How Nobel Prize Winner Muhammad Yunus and Microfinance Are Changing the World. Alex is the President of the Grameen Foundation, which based in Washington D.C. Okay, moving on. Why do you think that it's important/fun for young people to read biographies?A good biography is not dry and boring. A good biography is a compelling and engaging story about a person's life and what events inspired him or her to follow a certain path in life that would change the world forever. I love a good plot, but I love a good character even more. To me, a strong biography is one that embraces its main subject as a CHARACTER who faces obstacles and overcomes them with his or her clever initiatives, passion and drive. It's important for young people to read biographies so they can learn how one person CAN make a huge difference in our world. It's also fun for young people because they also are entertained by a suspenseful storyline that shows HOW that one person changed and grew as a result of overcoming their obstacles in life.Could you sum up for us the dream response of a reader who knows little or nothing about Bangladesh's history and culture?For me, a dream response of a reader who knows little or nothing abut Bangladesh's history and culture would be their admiration and respect for a country that has never given up, even in the face of war, famine and natural disaster. I would hope readers would be inspired to read more about Bangladesh and its beautiful and complex cultural history as well. And of course, to visit a restaurant and eat the awesome food, especially the many different kinds of pithas that Muhammad loved to eat as a child! :) Now let's move to the journey of getting the picture book published. What was a high point? A low point?I researched and wrote several drafts of this book that Jason Low read and critiqued. I revised it quite a bit before it was deemed submission-worthy. The high point was getting the email announcing the exciting news that it had been selected for publication. No matter how many books you write and publish, every new book that is accepted for publication always feels like your first book! It's an exciting feeling that never gets old. I also know picture books can take awhile because you also have to wait for the illustration/art to be completed. So the "low" point was me impatiently waiting and checking my emails obsessively for a sneak peek of the art work! But it was worth the wait - Jamel Akib's art work was phenomenal.His pastels are gorgeous! I went to his website and want to buy all of his paintings. Okay, next question: what was the biggest change you made in response to an editorial suggestion?The biggest change I made in response to an editorial suggestion was figuring out how to increase the presence and influence of both Muhammad's mother and father on his growth as a child learning how to become more compassionate and generous. I had focused more on his mother and then was asked to research his relationship with his father more. As a result, I feel the parents' portrayal is much richer and add more depth to what drove Muhammad to become such an advocate for the poor.Yes, I completely agree. Could you describe a fear you have about this picture book that can keep you up at night?As a Korean American, I wanted to make sure the portrayal of Muhammad Yunus and his country of Bangladesh were portrayed in the most accurate and authentic way as possible. I channeled into the universal themes that connected me as a human being to Muhammad's life—focusing on the universal themes of his life and his country's history helped me as I triple fact-checked everything. I also found it quite challenging to sum up the history of Bangladesh in such a short amount of text because this was written in the genre of picture books for children, which requires much brevity. Bangladesh has a complex and rich history and I did not want to cheat that historical depth or write anything that was too short and out of context. So I wold say my fear was really more of a concern to make sure Muhammad Yunus and Bangladesh were portrayed in the most authentic light possible.This book proves without a doubt that authenticity doesn't depend on having the "right" ethnic credentials (whatever that means), but I'd like to explore how much Jamal's Malaysian heritage informed his gut about life in a Muslim country. I'd love to find out what kind of research he did about Bangladeshi cultural practices before finalizing the art. Maybe I'll invite him out here someday. Last but not least: what's next for Paula Yoo in the creative realm?I'm working on a bunch of manuscripts-in-progress, from a new YA novel idea I have to a couple adult novel ideas, as well as some new picture books (researching new biography topics). I'm also working on a special children's book project that I can't announce yet but stay tuned! :) I also am a TV producer so I'm currently writing for SyFy's DEFIANCE. As for picture books, I host the very popular NAPIBOWRIWEE (National Picture Book Writing Week) event every May 1-7 in which I challenge writers to write 7 picture books in 7 days to help defeat procrastination. (That way everyone has 7 rough drafts they can then pick and choose to revise for the rest of the year!) I feature fun Q and As with published picture book authors and writing advice, plus a fun contest featuring some awesome autographed books from myself and others. The next event takes place May 1-7, 2015.Thanks so much for spending time out on the Fire Escape with me, Paula, and for writing this book. God bless you and your work in 2015!
I'm heading to the National Council of Teachers of English's annual convention in Washington D.C., and am also teaching a writing workshop at Ballou High School for An Open Book Foundation.
At the NCTE Convention, I'm speaking on a panel in the main ballroom at 8 a.m. during the General Session on "Reshaping the Landscape of Story: Creating Space for Missing and Marginalized Voices" (see below), and then signing TIGER BOY from 12:30-1:30 at Anderson's Bookshop's booth (#153) and from 1:30-2:30 at Charlesbridge Publishing's booth (#226). Stop by and say hello if you'll be there.
One of the best ways to deepen our commitment to children's and young adult books is by meeting other people who share that passion. And I don't mean just virtually; I mean in real life, too. Well, here's our chance: the 8th annual Kidlitosphere Conference, aka KidLitCon, October 10-11, at the Tsakopoulos Library Galleria in Sacramento, California. This is a gathering of people who care about children’s and young adult books, including librarians, authors, teachers, parents, booksellers, publishers, and readers.Social Media, Blogging, and Diversity in Young Adult and Children’s Literature
How might we use our blogs and social media platforms to widen the world of children’s and young adult literature? I'll be there, speaking about how we can change and affect the conversation about diversity, both in the industry and in the wider culture. Author Shannon Hale
is going to speak also, via Skype.
Mark October 10th and 11th on your calendar—we'd love to see you there. And consider submitting a proposal
by August 1st about how you might contribute to the conversation on children’s and young adult books. Or just register
by September 19th.Conference Organizers
and Sarah Stevenson
, Finding WonderlandJen Robinson
, Jen Robinson’s Book Page
Please help by spreading the word. Be a fan
on Facebook and Follow KidLitCon
One of the exciting milestones in the birth of a book is the arrival of the Advance Review Copy (ARC) sent from the publisher to the author. This copy is sent to reviewers and some teachers and librarians several months before a book releases. It's the first time you see the story you imagined, then wrote, and then revised in book form, and it's a breathtaking moment.
Yesterday, I got a copy of TIGER BOY (coming April 14, 2015) from Yolanda Scott, my editor at Charlesbridge, along with a lovely note. Now it feels real, friends. My next book!
|"Dear Mitali, How cool is this? We made a book! And a darn fine one, too. I couldn't be more pleased ... Best, Yo"|
I've been returning to words like "power" and "privilege" when it comes to the conversation around "diversity" in children's books. Amina Chaudhri of the American Library Association's Booklist Magazine recently interviewed me to clarify my position. Here's an excerpt:
Books and Authors: Talking with Mitali Perkins
...BKL: What do you think about labels that categorize sets of books by racial or ethnic content?
PERKINS: I would love to see a time soon when we don’t need any of those labels, and all kids will read all kinds of stories and find their own connections. Secret Keeper is set in Calcutta in the 1970s, and I’ve heard adults say that they didn’t have [a Bengali] population in their communities, so the story was not pertinent. Yet I’ve had kids from rural America write me eight-page letters saying that they loved the story and felt as if Asha reflected them.
I almost feel like the adults should get out of the way a little bit. The child reader will surprise you as to how they find their windows and mirrors in every different story. So, if the adult is saying, “This is about this,” sometimes that gets in the way of the child’s imagination. When I was reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy, I was reading it as a Bengali immigrant child, and what I got out of it were so many points of connection that an adult could never have told me about. The power of stories is that the reader makes his or her own meaning, especially when a child rereads a story; there’s something going on between the kid and the story that maybe adults shouldn’t even look at too closely. Just let the magic work!
You may read the rest online or download the entire interview.
|"... [It's] not an issue of race and culture but an issue of power. There are communities in America that have less power and there is poverty, and people have not had many chances to tell their own stories. That’s a different issue than an educated Bengali person who is growing up in the middle class. To lump us all together as multicultural because we’re not white puts too much focus on race and culture and not enough on power."|
I've been doing school visits for a long time, and the children seem to grow more endearing by the year. The University of Wisconsin's School of Education recently invited me to speak to fourth and fifth graders at Emerson Elementary in La Crosse. In this nice writeup describing my presentation, the School of Education's newsletter asks a good question: "It was hard to tell who was enjoying the experience the most: was it the children, the audience, or the author herself?"
I've often suggested that booksellers and librarians play around with "windows and mirrors" when it comes to displaying multicultural books. They can place such a title on a shelf of diverse reads for readers looking for windows into another world, or for children hoping to see their particular ethnic/racial experience reflected in a story. In the past, this kind of display was the only way I might see one of my books face out in a library or bookstore, or featured online.
These days, in a practice that's becoming more common, a multicultural book is displayed with other titles around a "mirror" theme common to all children.
For example, my novel Rickshaw Girl might be placed on a shelf beside other fiction for children with Asian settings and protagonists. It might also be displayed as it is here, at Graves Memorial Library in Kennebunkport, Maine, as part of a collection called "Young at Art: Picture Books and Novels Featuring Young Artists." This display about art includes several other titles that may or may not be "multicultural." Any reader who wants a story featuring a protagonist who is a young artist will be offered my story. That reader may or may not find her ethnicity reflected in my book, and it may or may not provide her with a first window into Bangladesh. An adult gatekeeper has guided her to a list of books where she will see her love of art reflected, but the rest of a story's mirror/window magic will be between her and the book, where it belongs.
Another example is my book Secret Keeper, which in the past has been featured as a title about India. Recently, however, I found it on a Minnesota's Hennepin County Library list called ": young adult novels featuring characters that love sports, love to get dirty, hate pink, and don't want to be 'ordinary' girls." There's my "multicultural" novel, rubbing elbows with the likes of Little Women, Hunger Games, and Island of the Blue Dolphins. Again, a reader who likes strong female protagonists will be offered my book, and the other mirrors and windows offered in the story—if she chooses it—is up to her.
Gatekeepers, take a look at your lists and displays with fresh eyes. Then have some fun playing around with new windows and mirrors themes to lead young readers to multicultural books. I'd love to hear about your creative lists and displays.
I was honored to present at the Kidlitosphere's 8th Annual Convention
in Sacramento, California, where I shared ten tips for adults interested in messages about race and culture that might go unnoticed "under the waterline" in books for children and young adults. I've offered these in other contexts, but here they are for bloggers and reviewers. As always, I welcome questions, corrections, and clarifications.
- Look for overused tropes like an older magical negro or a noble savage.
- Notice a smart/good peer of color whose only role is to serve as a foil for a flawed hero.
- Check the cover art for whitewashing or overexoticization.
- Pay attention to when and how race is defined, if at all.
- Notice if the setting, plot, and characters are in charge of the casting.
- Pay attention to how beauty is defined.
- Notice outsider “bridge” characters and generic versus specific cultures.
- Check for a “single story” that underlines a stereotype about another culture.
- See who has the power to make change and who has the power to be changed.
- Ask questions about the storyteller’s authenticity, privilege, and power.
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I'm delighted to share the final cover art for my forthcoming novel for upper elementary readers, TIGER BOY, coming 4/14/15 from Charlesbridge, illustrated by the amazing Jamie Hogan.