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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. D.C. and NCTE, Here I Come

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.

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2. TIGER BOY Final Cover

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.


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3. A Checklist to "See" Race/Culture in Kid/YA Books

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.
  1. Look for overused tropes like an older magical negro or a noble savage.
  2. Notice a smart/good peer of color whose only role is to serve as a foil for a flawed hero. 
  3. Check the cover art for whitewashing or overexoticization.
  4. Pay attention to when and how race is defined, if at all.
  5. Notice if the setting, plot, and characters are in charge of the casting.
  6. Pay attention to how beauty is defined.
  7. Notice outsider “bridge” characters and generic versus specific cultures.
  8. Check for a “single story” that underlines a stereotype about another culture.
  9. See who has the power to make change and who has the power to be changed.
  10. Ask questions about the storyteller’s authenticity, privilege, and power. 

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4. Displaying Multicultural Books: The Magic of Windows and Mirrors

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 "YA Books For Tomboys: 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.

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5. Author Visits: Who Enjoys Them More?

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?"




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6. Diversity in Children's Books: It's a Question of Power

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."

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7. Advance Review Copies of TIGER BOY!

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"

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8. Widen Your Circle: Join us for KidLitCon 2014

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

Tanita Davis and Sarah StevensonFinding Wonderland
Jen RobinsonJen Robinson’s Book Page

Please help by spreading the word. Be a fan on Facebook and Follow KidLitCon on Twitter.

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9. New Summer Reading for Anglophiles

Alice's Mad Tea Party
Maybe it's the strawberries and cream at Wimbledon. Or maybe it's that I can't quite get rid of the influence of the Raj in my psyche. No matter—the fact remains that every summer my reader's heart starts to hanker after Brit Lit.

There's nothing quite like a good Susan Howatch novel, tea, scones, and clotted cream (which Whole Foods carries now, leading to the demise of my overly ambitious fitness plans.)

On the hunt for contemporary (still alive and writing) authors, I posted this on my social media yesterday:




I thought I'd compile a list of books and authors as suggested by my friends, in case other anglophiles out there are looking for a new read. Books that are asterisked received more than one mention. (Note: I have neither read nor vetted the titles on this list, so read at your own risk ... but I do have a smart social media set.)

Particular Books
  • The Fire-Eaters by David Almond
  • Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
  • *The Sweetness At The Bottom Of The Pie and other Flavia DeLuce mysteries by Alan C. Bradley
  • Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman by Elizabeth Buchan
  • The Children's Book by AS Byatt
  • Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger
  • Any Duchess Will Do by Tessa Dare
  • *The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
  • The Memory of Love by Armineta Forna
  • *The Cuckoo's Calling and The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith 
  • Old Filth by Jane Gardam
  • Austenland by Shannon Hale
  • The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Frye by Rachel Joyce
  • Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesy
  • Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies by Hillary Mantel
  • If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things by Jon McGregor
  • Saffy's Angels by Hilary McKay
  • Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
  • Rustication and The Quincunx by Charles Palliser
  • Lady Jane series by Deanna Rayborn
  • Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
  • *The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer
  • *Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson
  • *Sunday Philosophy Club and Dalhousie series by Alexander McCall Smith
  • Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe
  • Ian Rutledge series by Charles Todd
  • A Parcel of Patterns by Jill Paton Walsh
  • Maisie Dobbs series by Jacquelyn Winspear
  • *Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
  • The Storied Life of AJ Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
Other Recommended Authors
  • Rhys Bowen
  • Elizabeth Buchan
  • Margaret Drabble
  • Philippa Gregory
  • Elly Griffiths
  • Nick Hornby
  • Penelope Lively
  • Sarah Maclean
  • Elizabeth Noble
  • Maggie O'Farrell
  • James Runcie
  • Joanna Trollope
Dead Authors and Books People Couldn't Help Mentioning
  • Love in a Cold Climate and The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford
  • Rumer Godden
  • Dora Saint (Miss Read)
  • I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
Got other suggestions? Leave them in the comments for the rest of us to discover.

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10. Asian Festival of Children's Content

Earlier in the summer, I was privileged to serve on the faculty of the Asian Festival of Children's Content, which seeks to "provide the world’s children with quality Asian content for education and entertainment." AFCC 2014 focused on India, lasted for six days, and drew 938 delegates from 27 countries. I spoke on several panels but also managed to enjoy the sights, tastes, smells, and sounds of Singapore, the third wealthiest country in the world.

My first panel was titled Young Adult Books as Windows and Mirrors. Here's the description: "Do books serve as a window to a different life or a mirror for your own? Mitali Perkins and Sampurna Chattarji examine why it’s important that young adult audiences have books that not only provide insight to the lives of others but also serve as mirrors of their own lives and cultures."

Next came The Vast Spread of the Sea: Asian Diaspora Writers and the Works, featuring author Gabrielle Wang, Illustrator Il Sung Na, and myself. "In this panel, we ask Asian authors who have worked in the UK, Australia, and the USA to speak on their experiences as creators of Asian descent. What issues, if any, remain universal to the Asian diaspora experience? What challenges have these creators faced and how did they overcome them to get published? Find out!"

Third and last, I spoke on Writing About Different Cultures with Gabrielle Wang. "As our global society embraces multiculturalism more and more, the question of how to tell effective stories that speak to multicultural communities become ever more important. How should writers, illustrators, and other story creators responsibly address writing about different cultures? Join in the discussion in this panel."

Fun to meet online friends in person, like Daphne Lee, Scholastic Asia editor...
... and Sayoni Basu, editor with India's Duckbill Books.
Editors Cheryl Robson (left) of the U.K. and Sayoni Basu (right) of India talked about acquisitions. Stacy Whitman of Tu Books (center) ably represented North American editors and publishers.
My turn to present: "Young Adult Books as Windows and Mirrors."
AFCC staff and volunteers were excellent at spoiling us. Many of our "Makan and Mingle" events took place on the top floor of the Singapore National Library, and featured a glorious 360 degree view.
The Children's Room at the Singapore National Library.
Bookseller Denise Tan of Closetful of Books organized my author visit to the ISS International School of Singapore.
Spoke with 9th graders from many Asian countries about stories between cultures.
I always feel at home in a roomful of global nomads and Third Culture kids.
A sweet-faced Indonesian student asked for a picture. Who could say no to that smile? Not me.
My extracurricular activities included a visit to the National Orchid Garden.  At every turn, you catch your breath and squelch a desire to burst into applause, because what will the other tourists think? Oh, well. Go ahead. They've all become flower and fountain paparazzi.
Perk of solo travel: paying closer attention to the symmetry, detail, and elegance at the National Museum of Singapore. A volunteer docent presented an enthralling 2.5 hours of history, full of unforgettable stories from the nation as well as from his own life. "Confucian families sadly didn't honor girl children as much as boys. During the time of hardship after the war, for example, girls were given to Malay families for adoption. One particular Chinese family had three daughters and two sons. They fought hard and somehow managed to keep the family intact, but the girls were not educated while the sons went to school. How do I know?" He hesitated to check his emotion. "Because I was one of those boys."
How do you know you're in Little India on a Sunday afternoon? By the monsoon rains, spicy vegetable biryani and sweet lassi, painted windows, and hundreds of Indians, strolling, shopping, and people-watching, just like you.
Need a break from the equatorial sun? Nothing better than a good book, a cup of Darjeeling, and biscuits in the Writer's Bar, where Ernest Hemingway and W. Somerset Maugham enjoyed different kinds of beverages.
 Last but not least, don't skip a moonlit riverboat ride. Glorious! Right, Junko (Yokota) and Marjorie (Coughlan)?
AFCC 2015 will be held from May 29 – June 7 in Singapore, and the country of focus is China. My recommendation? Don't miss it!

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11. 2014 South Asia Book Award for Children's and Young Adult Literature


The South Asia Book Award (SABA) is given annually for up to two outstanding works of literature, from early childhood to secondary reading levels, which accurately and skillfully portrays South Asia or South Asians in the diaspora, that is the experience of individuals living in South Asia, or of South Asians living in other parts of the world. Up to five Honor Books and Highly Commended Books are also  recognized by the award committee.

 2014 Winners

A Moment Comes by Jennifer Bradbury (Atheneum, 2013)

Before India was divided, three teens, each from wildly different backgrounds, cross paths. And then, in one moment, their futures become irrevocably intertwined. Tariq, Anupreet, Margaret are as different as their Muslim, Sikh, and British names. But in that one moment, their futures become entirely dependent on one another. (Grades 8 and up).

Razia’s Ray of Hope: One Girl’s Dream of an Education by Elizabeth Suneby (Kids Can Press, 2013)

Razia dreams of getting an education, but in her small village in Afghanistan, girls haven’t been allowed to attend school for many years. When a new girls’ school opens in the village, a determined Razia must convince her father and oldest brother that educating her would be best for her, their family and their community. Based on the true stories of the students of the Zabuli Education Center for Girls just outside of Kabul (Grades 3-8).

 

2014 Honor Books

Bye, Bye, Motabhai! by Kala Sambasivan, illustrations by Ambika Sambasivan (Yali Books, 2013). Pavan, an over-worked camel in the city of Ahmedabad, India, hates his job. He often dreams of being a racing camel in Dubai. But hitched to a heavy vegetable cart and with his owner Motabhai around, how is this possible? (Grades pre-K-3).

Gandhi: A March to the Sea by Alice B. McGinty, illustrations by Thomas Gonzalez (Amazon Publishing, 2013). Mohandas Gandhi’s 24-day March to the Sea, from March 12 to April 5, 1930, was a pivotal moment in India’s quest to become an independent country no longer ruled by Great Britain (Grades 3 and up).

 The Garden of My Imaan by Farhana Zia (Peachtree, 2013). The arrival of a new student, Marwa, a fellow fifth-grader who is a strict Muslim, helps Aliya come to terms with her own lukewarm practice of the faith and her embarrassment of others’ reactions to their beliefs (Grades 4-7).

Mother Teresa: Angel of the Slums by Lewis Helfand, art by Sachin Nagar (Campfire, an imprint of Kalyani Navyug Media, 2013). Mother Teresa knew from a young age that she wanted to become a nun. What she could not envision was where that service to God would take her, until she was sent to Calcutta to teach (Grades 6 and up).

2014 Highly Commended Books

 

The Fantastic Adventures of Krishna written and illustrated by Demi (Wisdom Tales, 2013). Set in a peaceful kingdom in India more than 5000 years ago, this is the enchanting tale of the child Krishna, who is sent by the God Vishnu to aid humanity (Grades K and up).

Gobble You Up! by Gita Wolf, art by Sunita (Tara Books, 2013). In this adaptation of a traditional oral Rajasthani trickster tale, a wily jackal, who is too lazy to go hunting himself, challenges his best friend to catch 12 fish. The narrative unfolds in cumulative rhyme, accompanied by distinctive finger paintings created in the ancient Mandna style (Grades pre-K-3).

In Andal’s House by Gloria Whelan, illustrations by Amanda Hall (Sleeping Bear Press, 2013). As a young boy in Gujarat, Kumar sometimes feels like he lives in two worlds. The old world where people and their choices are determined by prejudice and bigotry; and the modern world: in this world Kumar can be friends with whomever he chooses and his future looks bright (Grades K-3).

My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J Freedman (Harry N. Abrams, 2013). Tara’s not sure she wants to have a bat mitzvah. Even though she’s attended Hebrew school, her mother’s Indian heritage has a pull on her, and she wonders if she dishonors her Indian grandparents by declaring her Judaism (Grades 5-8).

Torn by David Massey (Chicken House, 2013). The story follows Ellie, a 19-year-old British medic, during her tour of duty in Afghanistan. Her squad is attached to a small troop of American SEALs who must find a hidden cache of arms and learn about a children’s army that is fighting both the Western Coalition and the Taliban (Grades 8 and up).

The 2014 South Asia Book Award Ceremony will be held in Madison, Wisconsin on Saturday, October 18, 2014.

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12. 3 YA Novels To Help Us Remember Our Nigerian Girls

I've been reading The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence by Gary Haugen and Victor Boutros, which makes a strong case against the atrocities of gender violence. Yesterday I ran across this troubling article from ThinkProgress explaining how the world quickly stopped caring about the kidnapped Nigerian girls, and this opinion in the Telegraph that hashtag campaigns may fail by giving the perpetrators exactly what they want: global publicity.

There's another way to keep our minds and hearts focused on the true protagonists of this horrible event—through the power of fiction. Here are three great reads that can connect us to the girls themselves as we hope and pray for their release.

 No Laughter Here (Harper) by Rita Williams-Garcia

Even though they were born in different countries, Akilah and Victoria are true best friends. But Victoria has been acting strange ever since she returned from her summer in Nigeria, where she had a special coming-of-age ceremony. Why does proud Victoria, named for a queen, slouch at her desk and answer the teacher's questions in a whisper? And why won't she laugh with Akilah anymore?  Akilah's name means "intelligent," and she is determined to find out what's wrong, no matter how much detective work she has to do. But when she learns the terrible secret Victoria is hiding, she suddenly has even more questions. The only problem is, they might not be the kind that have answers.

"This exquisitely written short novel tackles an enormous and sensitive subject… Unapologetic, fresh and painful." — Kirkus Reviews (Starred review)

"Combines a richly layered story with accurate, culturally specific information ..... [a] skillfully told, powerful story." ALA Booklist (Starred review)

The Other Side of Truth (HarperTrophy) by Beverly Naidoo, winner of the Carnegie Medal.

A shot. Two shots at the gate in the early morning and a car screeches away down an avenue of palm trees. A tragedy - and a terrible loss for Sade and her younger brother Femi, children of an outspoken Nigerian journalist. Now terror is all around them and they must flee their country. At once. And alone. Plans for their journey have to be hastily arranged. Everything must be done in secret. But once Sade and Femi reach England, they will be safe - won't they?

"Totally gripping, somewhat shaming and entirely believable, this is an engrossing and thought-provoking read for 10-years-olds plus." — Sunday Telegraph

"Narrated with exceptional skill in a bracing, unadorned style…" — The Scotsman

"an unforgettable novel." — The Times


Purple Hibiscus (Algonquin) by Chimamanda Adichie

Fifteen-year-old Kambili and her older brother Jaja lead a privileged life in Enugu, Nigeria. They live in a beautiful house, with a caring family, and attend an exclusive missionary school. They're completely shielded from the troubles of the world. Yet, as Kambili reveals in her tender-voiced account, things are less perfect than they appear. Although her Papa is generous and well respected, he is fanatically religious and tyrannical at home—a home that is silent and suffocating.

As the country begins to fall apart under a military coup, Kambili and Jaja are sent to their aunt, a university professor outside the city, where they discover a life beyond the confines of their father’s authority. Books cram the shelves, curry and nutmeg permeate the air, and their cousins’ laughter rings throughout the house. When they return home, tensions within the family escalate, and Kambili must find the strength to keep her loved ones together.

"Prose as lush as the Nigerian landscape that it powerfully evokes. . . . Adichie's understanding of a young girl's heart is so acute that her story ultimately rises above its setting and makes her little part of Nigeria seem as close and vivid as Eudora Welty's Mississippi." — The Boston Globe

"In a soft, searing voice, Adichie examines the complexities of family, faith and country through the haunted but hopeful eyes of a young girl on the cusp of womanhood. Lush, cadenced and often disconcerting. — Publishers Weekly

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13. Kids Will Love These Five Books "Between Cultures"

Waxing poetic about Thanhha Lai's
Inside, Out, and Back Again at
Mrs. Dalloway's Books in Berkeley, CA.
Anne Whaling, children's book buyer at Mrs. Dalloway's Bookstore in Berkeley, asked me and a couple of other visitors (Nina Lindsay, Oakland public librarian and author-illustrat LeUyen Pham) to share a few recommendations of books featuring diverse characters for ages 5-10.

I was delighted to introduce a few of my favorites to an audience of eager readers and their parents. Here are my "quick picks," with annotations provided by Anne and a quick description of why I like the books.

Four Feet, Two Sandals by Karen Williams (Eerdmans). When relief workers bring used clothing to the refugee camp, everyone scrambles to grab whatever they can. Ten-year-old Lina is thrilled when she finds a sandal that fits her foot perfectly, until she sees that another girl has the matching shoe. Soon Lina and Feroza meet, each wearing one coveted sandal. Together they solve the problem of having four feet and two sandals. (What I particularly love in this story: the exploration of power, and the fact that the resolution brought about by the person with least power.)

Rain School by James Rumford (HMH). It is the first day of school in Chad, Africa. Children are filling the road. "Will they give us a notebook?" Thomas asks. "Will they give us a pencil?" "Will I learn to read?" But when he and the other children arrive at the schoolyard, they find no classroom, no desks. Just a teacher. "We will build our school," she says. "This is our first lesson." Starred review, Booklist. (What I particularly love in this story: the revelation to the North American reader that school is more than just a building, and that it's about a community of learners, and the fact that the children of Chad are the revealers of this truth.)

Ruby Lu, Empress of Everything by Lenore Look (Simon and Schuster). When Ruby's cousin Flying Duck emigrates from China to live with her, Ruby decides the best thing about Flying Duck is that she is a great new friend. BUT the worst thing about Flying Duck is that now, no one speaks English at home. Plus, there's strange food on the table every night and only chopsticks to eat it with. And Flying Duck is deaf, and Ruby doesn't know any Chinese Sign Language. As if that weren't enough, this summer proves to be even more perilous as Ruby faces the dangers of swimming lessons, the joys of summer school, the miracle needed to keep a beautiful stray dog that wanders into her life, and much more. Is it all too much for anyone -- even the Empress of Everything -- to handle? Starred review, SLJ (What I particularly love in this story: the humor and strong characterization make this the perfect book to illuminate Betsy Bird's concept of "casual diversity.")

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai (Harper). Inspired by the author's childhood experience of fleeing Vietnam after the Fall of Saigon and immigrating to Alabama, this coming-of-age debut novel told in verse has been celebrated for its touching child's-eye view of family and immigration. Newbery Honor Book, and a winner of the National Book Award. Starred reviews, Horn Book, Kirkus, PW, SLJ. (What I particularly love in this story: readers will love seeing their own sibling relationships mirrored in the author's depiction of three very different older brothers, plus this is a beautiful "between-cultures" read that is award-winning and accessible.)
The No. 1 Car Spotter by Atinuke (Kane Miller). When a cart breaks down and the villagers can't get their goods to market, Oluwalase Babatunde Benson, otherwise known as the No. 1 Car Spotter in his village, comes up with a brilliant solution. (What I particularly love in this story: it makes me laugh out loud and shatters any "single story" of Africa that might be lurking in the back of the reader's mind.)

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14. Notable Social Studies Trade Books 2014


The books that appear in the slides above were evaluated and selected by a Book Review Committee appointed by the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) and assembled in cooperation with the Children's Book Council (CBC). They were written for children in grades K-12, published in 2013, and meet the following criteria: 
  • emphasize human relations 
  • represent a diversity of groups 
  • sensitive to a broad range of cultural experiences 
  • present an original theme or a fresh slant on a traditional topic 
  • easily readable
  • high literary quality
  • pleasing format
  • where appropriate, include illustrations that enrich the text 
Happy disclosure: OPEN MIC: RIFFS ON LIFE BETWEEN CULTURES IN TEN VOICES (Candlewick) is on the 2014 list (slide #88.)


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15. Hats Off to a Legion of Librarians in Boston and Brooklyn!

I had a marvelous ten days visiting schools in the Boston area and in Brooklyn, as well as teaching a few workshops at the annual New England Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators conference and the Muse and the Marketplace 2014 conference sponsored by Grub Street.

In case you missed my whirlwind trip via social media, I've gathered a few photo highlights. As you can see below, it took a bundle of librarians to make this trip happen. I returned from my journey even more impressed by these talented cheerleaders of kids and reading. They are truly an American treasure.


I started and ended the trip by presenting with authors David Yoo and Francisco Stork, who both contributed to OPEN MIC. David (pictured above) met with middle schoolers at the Fenn School in Concord, Massachusetts. Meanwhile, Francisco shared with high schoolers and I spoke to upper elementary students.
These days, school librarians must be book experts, tech geniuses, and marketers extraordinaire, like Susan Fisher of the Fenn School.
Chatting with students after my talks is always a joy, especially when school librarians have prepared the kids well for my visit. Students at the Fenn School gathered to chat about the differences between books and movies as story venues and to ask questions about BAMBOO PEOPLE.
Next I headed to Nashoba Brooks Academy to meet with school librarian / diversity champion Sam Kane, who coordinated my presentation to second graders about RICKSHAW GIRL. I had a bit of time so I stopped by the Old Manse in Concord, where Thoreau planted this garden at the Old Manse as a wedding present for the Hawthornes. It's doing fine.
My creative spirit stirred on a raw spring day as I walked the grounds where famous writers used to dwell. But there's little time for writing during an author visit maelstrom. The day after my sessions at the Fenn School and Nashoba Brooks Academy, I visited Zervas and Underwood schools in Newton, Massachusetts, where I was hosted by parents serving on Creative Arts and Sciences committees.
Next stop, Springfield Massachusetts for the New England Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators conference, where I taught workshops on dialogue and virtual book launches. I enjoyed this reflection of the Campanile from my  hotel room.
Seeing writing buddies galore (Lisa Papademetriou and Ammi-Joan Paquette are pictured above) is one of the best reasons to go to this marvelous conference.
Tara Sullivan shows off the forthcoming paperback issue of GOLDEN BOY, her award-winning novel about Habo, a Tanzanian boy with albinism.
Trend spotted: cute agents with bangs. (Kaylee Davis on the left and Lauren Macleod on the right.)
After a quick session on crafting place in fiction at the Muse and the Marketplace conference in Boston, I headed to Brooklyn for an assembly at Packer Collegiate School, where Lois Lowry studied as a girl.
The grounds and building reeked of tradition, and the auditorium looked like an old chapel. The students were receptive and engaged, thanks mostly to school librarian Kristyn Dorfman, who welcomed and hosted me.
Next I taught kids at P.S. 230 in Brooklyn how to draw alpanas. Since many of them are Bangladeshi, they're naturals, and the art was amazing. Thanks for this visit goes to Susan Brill, a superb teacher who cares deeply about reading global books in her multicultural classroom.
I knew RICKSHAW GIRL was a "mirror" book for the kids of P.S. 230 when I saw this poster on the gate.
That afternoon I strolled across the Brooklyn Bridge and back.
Stopped to watch handball on one of the playgrounds and was tempted to get in line for a game.
Next stop was Brooklyn Friends School, where I led writing workshops for 8th graders and presented a session for the 5th grade.
Middle School Librarian Angie Ungaro took excellent care of me at Brooklyn Friends. Again, note the superb signage.
Back in the Boston area, I visited Derby Academy in Hingham, established in 1784. Tuition used to be an armful of firewood. I think it might be a bit steeper now. Librarian Barbara Zinkovich arranged my visit impeccably.
I've gotten good at multitasking during presentations. Here I'm teaching one kid to bargain for bananas in an imaginary Bangladeshi marketplace while I wrap a saree around a second volunteer.
After full-day gigs at the two middle schools in Reading, Massachusetts, where school librarians Christine Steinhauser and Robyn Ferrazzani took care of me, public school librarians celebrated OPEN MIC with Thai food. (From L to R: Young Adult Librarian Susan Beauregard, author Francisco Stork, Adult Services Librarian Andrea Fiorillo, author David Yoo, and Young Adult Librarian Renee Smith.)
Reading Librarian Andrea Fiorillo, David Yoo, Francisco Stork, and a lovely bookseller from Andover Bookstore after our Big Read panel on growing up between cultures.



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16. In Which I Chat About Privilege, Authenticity, Apps, Books, Tech, and So On With 3 School Librarians

After 10 days on the road, I'm home again. I presented 26 times in 11 schools and 2 conferences in Boston and Brooklyn, where I got to chat with three brilliant New York independent school librarians (Angie Ungaro, Sarah Murphy, and Kerry Roeder). They create a podcast for librarians called the "Watchers Podcast," and featured an interview with me on Episode 7. They even provide a list of resources for every episode. We recorded in my hotel room in Brooklyn, clustering around the microphone, and it was one of the highlights of my trip.

Angie Ungaro, Middle School librarian at Brooklyn Friends School, is on the right.


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17. Launching a Book in a Digital Age: A Call for Tips and Tricks

In the age of shrinking in-house publicity budgets, how might a writer or illustrator use social media to launch a book? I'll be presenting a session called "Launching a Book in a Digital Age" at the forthcoming New England Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators 2014 Conference, and I need your input.

What are some creative ideas and strategies that have worked for you or for others in launching a new book? Do you have practical tips on how to use tools like blogs, twitter, Facebook, etc. to draw attention to a title and make it stand out from the crowd? Please leave your suggestions in the comments below or tweet them with the hashtag #booklaunchtips.

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18. This OPEN MIC Book Trailer Rocks My World

I usually try and create trailers for my books but what with our big move to California, I didn't get one together for OPEN MIC: RIFFS ON LIFE BETWEEN CULTURES IN TEN VOICES (Candlewick). That's why I was delighted when K.T. Horning of the University of Madison-Wisconsin's Cooperative Children's Book Center told me about this trailer created by Ali Khan, a brilliant, funny teen writer in the Madison Public Library's "Bubbler." I think you'll enjoy it as much as I did:



Ali, I love you! I will be the little old lady who hobbles up for an autograph some day, so don't forget me. Here's another video he made about rejecting stereotypes:


About the book trailer project:

Thanks to a recent Madison Civics Club Youth Grant, Madison Public Library and the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) were able to pilot an 8-week workshop series with teen writers at Simpson Street Free Press. The project highlighted titles from Read On Wisconsin, CCBC's literacy program that promotes high-quality books for children and teens throughout Wisconsin.

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19. Wisconsin, Here I Come

On Tuesday, April 8, I'm honored to offer the keynote at this year's conference on multicultural literature at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse. Come and join us if you're nearby.

Tuesday April 8, 2014
- at -
the Collaborative Learning Studio,
UW-La Crosse Murphy Library, second floor.
- Presentations at -
12:30 - 2:00 pm and 4:00 - 5:30 pm
The program is free of charge, and participants may attend either of two presentations.

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20. Introducing OPEN MIC contributor Francisco X. Stork

YA Author Francisco X. Stork
I'm delighted to continue to showcase the nine authors who collaborated with me on OPEN MIC: RIFFS ON LIFE BETWEEN CULTURES IN TEN VOICES (published by Candlewick Press). Today I'm featuring the brilliant Francisco X. Stork, author of the piece called "Brotherly Love," a fictional look at the limits of traditional Latino masculinity.

VOYA had this to say about our book and, more specifically, about Francisco's piece:
"... Perkins organizes the stories wisely in this collection that hopes to put a humorous spin on a topical, deeply uncomfortable subject: Race. ... In Francisco X. Stork's "Brotherly Love," siblings Luis and Rosalinda have a revealing conversation about their brother Bernie. These tales in particular dance between humor and heartache, ending on notes of triumph as we look toward a hopeful future. ..."
Here are the opening paragraphs from his short story in OPEN MIC, which tell so much about the close bonds Luis has with his siblings and his relationship with their father:
The day I talked to my sister started out as an ordinary Sunday. Papá‎ began yellign at us to get ready two hours before we needed to leave for church. I know Rosalinda would be staying home because I had heard her battle with Papá‎ earlier that morning. Once a month, Papá‎ reluctantly agreed to let Rosalinda stay home on account of "problemas de mujer."
"Luis, let's go!" I heard Papá‎ yell all the way from his room. I covered my face with my pillow.
"You all right?" Bernie was standing over my bed. He had a worried look on his face. He and I had shared a room since forever. "You haven't been yourself lately. Is everything okay?"
Francisco's award-winning books include The Last Summer of the Death Warriors, Marcelo in the Real World, Behind the Eyes, Way of the Jaguar, and Irises. He works in Boston as a lawyer for a state agency that develops affordable housing. Francisco was born in Monterrey, Mexico, to Ruth Arguelles, a single mother from a middle-class family in Tampico, a city on the Gulf of Mexico. Find out more about this critically-acclaimed author and his work here.

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21. Hey, Grand Rapids! Is Spring There Yet?

http://festival.calvin.edu/
Next week (April 10-14, 2014), I'm delighted to be participating in the Festival of Faith and Writing, "the biennial writing festival at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, celebrating matters of faith."

I'll be presenting a solo talk called "It's Just Fiction: Reading and Writing about Race, Culture, and Power," and am participating in a panel discussion on YA fiction with Swathi Avasti and Pam Muñoz Ryan. I'm also sitting on a panel focusing on writing and social justice with Uwem Akpan, a writer of fiction and Jesuit priest serving in Nigeria, and playwright Ashley Lucas. The framing question will be something like this: "To what extent can—or should—art serve to shine a light on injustice?"

Other Kid/YA book folks will be presenting at the Festival, including Gene Luen Yang (keynoting), Ron Koertge, Michele Wood, and Deborah Heiligman. Literary luminaries who write for adults, including Anne Lamott, James McBride, Miroslav Wolf, will also be there. Follow the Festival on twitter with this hashtag: #ffwgr, and here's the schedule of events and full list of speakers.

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22. Device-Free Day. You In?

I returned from the inspiring Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College yesterday to this tweet from Elizabeth Law, reader and editor extraordinaire:

If I could blush, I would have.

In an age of digital hullabaloo, one of my life goals is to avoid screens and plugs from sundown Saturday to sundown Sunday. Apparently, I've discoursed about that publicly. The problem was that I was reading the tweet first thing Sunday morning.

At the Festival, I was reminded again that maintaining a 24/7 digital connection can suck the storytelling right out of you. Creative work flourishes with the age-old practice of a weekly day of rest, during which we enjoy a five-senses attentive delight in the present.

That's why I am going to renew my device-free habit from sundown Saturday to sundown Sunday.

But this time, I don't want to do it just for me and my stories. I want to invite you into this practice with me (not exactly with my rules and schedule—feel free to make up your own), so that many, many good stories might emerge.

If you want to join me in taking a one-day-a-week break from email, social media, and internet browsing, and/or refraining from screens and plugs altogether, I invite you to use #devicefreeday to begin your 24-hour hiatus. During your digital break, rest, play, and be present in your place with your people. Let the stories come!

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23. It’s Just Fiction: Reading and Writing about Race, Culture, and Power

At the recent Festival of Faith and Writing in Grand Rapids, MI, I had to tweak a presentation I've given over the past several years. A previous version focused on empowering writers with questions related to race, culture, and power to ask of ourselves and our stories. The Festival brings together writers and readers, so I presented "Ten Tips To See
 'Below the Waterline' of Stories," hoping that they might be useful while reading another person's story as well as in the revision of one's own work.

My goal is for us to SEE themes related to race, culture, and power with our conscious minds. Fiction is powerful, as propagandists know, and a "single story" of a group of people (as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie eloquently argued) transmitted "below the waterline" can be dangerous.

TEN TIPS FOR READERS AND WRITERS:

1. Look for an older magical negro or noble savage.


2. Notice a smart/good peer from a marginalized group who serves as a foil for a flawed hero. 


3. Check the cover or illustrations for misrepresentations of exoticization or whitewashing.

4. Ask when and how race is defined, if at all.

5. Notice if the setting, plot, and characters are in charge of the casting (because they must be.)

6. Pay attention to how beauty is defined (i.e, straight, silky hair; big, wide eyes, etc.)

7. Check for a “single story" that identifies a community or person on the margins of power.

8. Notice the presence of bridge characters.

9. Ask who has the power to bring about change and who has the power to be changed.

10. Question the storyteller’s (your) authenticity, privilege, and power, but not for the purposes of setting up an arbitrary apartheid system about who can tell the story.

For me, none of these lead to a deal-breaker when it comes to a book. In fact, I hate censorship.  I want to encourage us to see the powerful act of storytelling through slightly different eyes. It's helpful to consider the perspective from the margins, and to comprehend that the privilege of power (whether derived from class, nationality, education, accent, ethnicity, etc.) often enables us not to see.



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24. Shattering the Multicultural Myth of the Market. Let's go.

"A young adult book featuring a protagonist who isn't of European descent will never become a bestseller."

"The majority of readers won't read a young adult novel featuring a protagonist who isn't of European descent."

We imagine these kinds of comments, spoken or unspoken, governing the publishing industry. In our guts, we know they're not true. We gripe about this issue. We try to disprove such claims through social media and conferences, panels and articles, speeches and radio shows. Unfortunately, nothing so far has resulted in such a young adult novel breaking through into widespread success.

The truth is that, for all of our good intentions, publishing is a for-profit industry.

Money changes minds.

"Adults don't read books for young readers." Harry Potter shattered that one, didn't it?

"Boys don't read girl books." Along came Suzanne Collins with Katniss, and middle-aged men were tearing through The Hunger Games trilogy.

Yesterday I tweeted this:

I got several suggestions including books like Joseph Bruchac's Killer of Enemies, The Living by Matt De La Peña, Fake ID by Lamar Giles, and Prophecy by Ellen Oh.

But Ellen raised a good question:
I do think that film can take a book to the next level, but it must achieve some widespread market success before moviemakers begin to pay attention. There are two necessities to achieve this kind of success.

First, storytellers — RISE UP! Write a great story that rings with authenticity featuring a protagonist we love who is not of European descent (I know the label stinks, but you get my drift.) It must be a page-turner. It must knock our story-hungry socks off.  By the last page, not only are we are ready to read it again,  we are reaching into our wallets to pre-order the sequel. We are tweeting, texting, status-ing, and insta-ing that book until our friends are convinced they must buy it right now or their quality of life will diminish.

I may complain about the market and choose to blame my lack of breakthrough success on the r-word, but let's get real—I need to write an AMAZING STORY. Once I've achieved this (and the veracity of such a claim has been thoroughly verified by countless words and reviews of readers who don't know me), I might be able to question why it didn't become a blockbuster.

I know that one part of us believes our mothers and thinks our books are beyond incredible, but another part says, "Maybe it was good, but get better, get better." Let's listen to that—time is short.

Second, readers, be on the hunt for such a story. In the old days, we relied solely on publishing houses to put publicity and marketing big bucks behind fiction. These days, social media and virality are increasingly key to launching a novel into bestseller status, which feels like the collective "we" have a bit more power.  How can we use that power to get behind a title? Maybe we can add our small voice of influence to help it sell like crazy.

Who is likely to discover a young adult novel with blockbuster potential featuring culturally marginalized protagonists (gosh, I hate race labels—what do you think of that one)? I trust indie booksellers and librarians. That's why I tune into their voices on twitter (feel free to follow my lists of 197 booksellers and 359 librarians.) If booksellers like Elizabeth Bluemle and librarians like Betsy Bird, champions of "add-your-own-label-here" books for years, don't discover this myth-shattering story, nobody will.

I believe that changing the market can and will happen. And when it does, I promise you I'll say I told you so.

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25. A Midwestern Girl at Heart

I thoroughly enjoyed my week of events in the Midwest. I presented the 8th annual lecture on Multicultural Children's Literature at the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse, hosted by the Murphy Library. Next I headed for Grand Rapids, Michigan, where I attended the Festival of Faith and Writing to sit on a couple of panels as well as offer a solo talk entitled "It's Just Fiction: Ten Tips on Reading and Writing about Race, Culture, and Power."

In both communities, everyone was so ... nice. I know that can be a bland adjective, but believe me, after living in or near big cities my whole life, I delighted in the courtesies extended to me in these smaller college towns. If it wasn't for the W-word, I'd consider making my home in one of North America's so-called "flyover states." But I dumped my shovels in Boston before moving to the San Francisco Bay Area, and I never want to see them again. Besides, I can always visit, right?

Three Great Days in Wisconsin

Welcome bouquet in my hotel room? Nice start!

4th and 5th graders getting settled before my presentation.
Received this book of stories and poems prepared by the students.
Great teachers are the key to successful author visits.


Time for my lectures at the Murphy Library. Good signage, right?
Fielding good questions is more than half the fun.
On my lunch break, I drove up to Grandad Bluff Park to enjoy the view.
The University of Wisconsin—La Crosse from the Bluff.
Patrick Anderson of the LaCrosse Tribune attended and reported about the event.
It takes a village to plan an author visit. Here's the the team of librarians and School of Education leaders at The Waterfront Restaurant (highly recommended for dinner). Thank you, friends!

The route to the airport in St. Paul took me through this town.  Remember who lived here?
Yep, it's the Little House in the Big Woods.

Lake Pepin.

Three Great Days in Wisconsin 

Confession: I love conference swag. This gift bag was waiting in my room at Calvin College's Prince Conference Center, site of the Festival of Faith and Writing.
The Festival kicked off with a talk by Gene Luen Yang, "Is Art Selfish?" Other keynote speakers included James McBride, Miroslav Volf, and Anne Lamott.
Children's and YA authors abounded (From L to R: Swati Avasthi, Pam Muñoz Ryan, and Deborah Heiligman.)
Loved spending time with this brilliant author and listening to her talk about faith and science in her award-winning book, CHARLES AND EMMA. "The Darwins' relationship is a microcosm of how people can talk about different views with deep love," she said.

Newbery honoree Gary Schmidt, who is on the faculty at Calvin, moderated a panel on writing young adult fiction (from L to R: Gary Schmidt, Swati Avasthi, Pam Muñoz Ryan, and me.)
Panel discussion, "Power of the Word: Writing Towards Justice." (From L to R: Moderator Sarina Moore, Uwem Akpan, Ashley Lucas, and me.)
Last but not least, the Festival was full of young talents, including my friend Briana Meade, who writes about young motherhood and faith.





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