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The National Book Awards were handed out on Wednesday night. John Lewis' final entry into his graphic memoir, March: Book Three,writtenwith Andrew Aydin and illustrated by Nate Powell, won the 2016 National Book Award for Young People's Literature.
The book is stunning in its timeliness. We cannot forget the fight for equal rights and equal respect. And we must continue to uphold the American ideal that all people are created equal. That's ALL - as in Every Single Person.
As the banner at my place of worship says, "Love Thy Neighbor - No Exceptions".
America - the Melting Pot! That image is sort of wrong. I don't want the Mediterranean part of me melted into the Germanic part of me - not entirely! I want to own the Mangia! and the Gesundheit! both - to say nothing of the Pip Pip Cheerio! and Top o' the morning! I am proud of every single patch in my patchwork DNA.
At the same time, America as a Cooking Pot is sort of right. I love soups and stews - foods where different ingredients blend together but keep their individual flavors. America is more like a hearty soup.
Hey! We're all people! We all share the same home, the Earth.
A good cook doesn't let any one ingredient overpower all the others.
I think I forgot where I was going with this. Oh! Right! Diversity! Celebrate the differences, everyone! All the lovely differences!
Here are some book lists to get you started in this celebration of America, the Cooking Pot. Mangia!
Welcome to the 2016 Cybils Speculative Reader! As a first run reader for the Cybils, I'll be briefly introducing you to the books on the list, giving you a mostly unbiased look at some of the plot.Enjoy! Many readers know author Corinne Duyvis from... Read the rest of this post
She wanted to know if I was the author of one of their books, María Teresa. She’d found correspondence between the author and the press archived in the university library.
“Looking at your website,” she wrote, “I see you are a great educator! I am teaching in Texas after I graduate so I always love stumbling upon other teachers and seeing their wisdom.”
Of course I got right back to her! Now in my 60s, I am full of wisdom and I’m always happy to share!
I had written María Teresa when I was living in Cincinnati, Ohio in the late 1970s. I taught Spanish then to first and second graders at Silverton Elementary School in a magnet program to attract white students to the predominantly black school. Because I only had high school certification, I needed to get my elementary certificate to keep my job. I enrolled in the necessary courses at Xavier University.
I signed up for History of Children’s Literature, a course that ultimately guided me to my life’s passion—writing for children. One day, we had a guest speaker: Lucille Clifton.
What she said had a profound impact on me. She said that all children deserve to see themselves in children’s books. In 1977!
As a teacher in a school where most of my students were black, Clifton’s comment resonated with me. I’d already looked in my local library for picture books where both the students I taught and the children who spoke the language I taught were represented. I’d found very few.
One assignment in the children’s literature course was to write and illustrate a children’s book. Another life defining moment!
Thus, María Teresa was born. María Teresa tells the story of a young Mexican American girl who finds her voice in her Anglo classroom through her puppet, Monteja la Oveja.
I decided to try to get María Teresa published. I combed through the thick volume of the Writer’s Market at the Cincinnati Public Library. Why did I pick Lollipop Power Press among all the others listed?
Because I loved the Lollipop mission.
The Lollipop Power Press was a non-sexist and non-racist children’s book publishing collective, a feminist press concerned with issues of class, race, and gender equality.
It published books such as Martin’s Father by Margrit Eichler about a boy and his black single-parent father; Jesse’s Dream Skirt by Bruce Mack about a boy who sews his own skirt and wears it to school; and In Christina’s Toolbox by Dianne Homan about a girl who loves to build things just like her mom.
I was thrilled when Lollipop accepted my manuscript for publication. That was easy, I thought! I’m going to be a children’s author! I’ll write stories, send them to publishers and they’ll become books. (Little did I know…)
Abby, the college student, and I spoke on the phone. Her curiosity about and enthusiasm for María Teresa touched me deeply. It took me back to a time when a book about a girl and her toolbox, a boy who wears a skirt, and a boy with a single black dad were unusual, and in many places, controversial.
“Were you a radical?” she asked me when I told her about how Lollipop Power’s vision back then was so new.
Well, I joked, if believing in equality and access to children’s literature for all children was radical, I guess I was.
And still am. It all goes back to my ah-ha moment when listening to Lucille Clifton. Every child deserves to see themselves in the books they read.
As I think back on it, two things are notable. One, that as a WASP New Englander, it had never occurred to me back then to even think about how there were children who couldn’t find themselves in books. And two, that as soon as she said it, it touched a deep well inside me.
I understood what she was saying. I understood how important it was. And I wanted to be a children’s author who wrote stories for and about all kinds of children.
Forty years later, the vision of We Need Diverse Books is “A world in which all children can see themselves in the pages of a book.”
Am I a radical to ask, “Why is this taking so long?”
Mary Atkinson has taught Spanish to students of all ages, been a third grade teacher, and hosted a Spanish radio show. Her poetry for children has appeared in magazines and anthologies, and her fiction and non-fiction have been published widely in educational markets. She is the author of Owl Girl (Maine Authors Publishing, 2015).
Children's picture book nerds have a few saints; Eric Carle, Leo Lionni, Trina Schart Hyman -(don't get me started. What about the Petershams and Tomie DePaola and Frank Asch?...Of course, I am showing my age.)
But chief among them, for his groundbreaking work in diversity, is Ezra Jack Keats. (Is that not a most poetic name?) His books about Peter and Peter's neighborhood brought the children of Keats' neighborhood,- black children, brown children, tan and white children - into mainstream publishing.
Everybody knowsThe Snowy Day. Now thank to Andrea Davis Pinkney, and illustrators Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher, we get the story behind that book's creation - the story of Ezra Jack Keats. A Poem for Peter hits the shelves on November 1st. I can't wait to read it.
As a spec fic writer, I’ve so often been told that it's "unusual" or even "strange" for an Indigenous person to be writing in this genre. Why do you write speculative fiction? Do you think there’s advantages to the genre that aren’t found in other genres?
Yes, the industry must move past the tendency to put creatives in genre boxes as well as to underestimate Native authors and authors of color.
We are not here to exclusively write books about landmark historical events with obvious social studies tie-ins. We can rock those stories, but we can also do so much more and do it spectacularly.
If not, you may want to look into ordering online for international delivery. (Or check out the e-novella, Rose Eagle--should be an easy download.)
As for me, I take the advice we so often give to beginning writers. I write what I know. I write what I love to read. I saw “Star Wars: A New Hope” (before it was called "A New Hope") 384 times in the theater. Of course I write speculative fiction.
My Tantalize-Feral universe is genre bending, incorporating elements of Gothic fantasy, urban fantasy, mystery, suspense, humor, and science fiction.
The fantastical offers writers the ability to speak to our real world at a slant. At that slant, you can—ironically enough—hit the real-world themes harder.
Let’s say I wrote a realistic novel about a teenage girl who gets involved with an older guy who plies her with red wine, takes over her family’s business, socially segregates her, kidnaps her, imprisons her, assaults her, frames her best friend for murder and kills her best friend's dog. Yes, his dog. Overkill? (Possibly. I'm still getting distraught reader mail about the dog.)
On the other hand, if he’s a vampire, the reader is far more likely to buy into the story. (And, thankfully, I had the discretion to subvert genre expectations and make it a girl-empowerment story.) With spec fic, we can dig deeper into the theme without seeming heavy handed.
My latest realistic short fiction, "All's Well," appeared as a chapter in Shaun David Hutchinson's Violent Ends (Simon Pulse, 2015), which is centered on a school shooting.
Coming up, I'll have a poem written as a child featured in "Dreams to Write" in Our Story Begins: Children’s Authors and Illustrators Share Fun, Inspiring, and Occasionally Ridiculous Things They Wrote and Drew as Kids, edited by Elissa Brent Weissman (Atheneum, 2017). I do a little creative nonfiction, too. Basically, I have either great range or a complete lack of focus.
You put time and effort into promoting the work of other writers. Why is this important to you?
When I decided to write full-time rather than practice law (or work as a journalist), it was more of a heart decision than a head decision.
By the time I was eight or nine years old, as an avid reader, I'd learned that I never wanted to open a book with an American Indian on the cover (or any hint of Native content), even if it was by the author of my favorite novel.
While we have far to go, I’ve seen progress and felt the pride in community that comes with it.
Books are where I belong. Story is what has always helped me make sense of the world and find my place in it. And my place in it is informed by media and the law--a longing for justice bolstered by the education and tools to help achieve it.
I want to do what I can to ensure that children’s-YA literature welcomes all kids in a positive, nurturing way. That's not just about me. It's about what we do as a community of book creators, publishers, gatekeepers, booksellers, child care givers... The team effort.
Light a candle. If that doesn't work, light a bonfire.
How did I get here? By the standards of the time, I entered children's-YA publishing as a very young author.
This was the late 1990s, and I was in my late twenties/early thirties. It's different now. Debut authors younger than I was then are no longer unusual. But back then, editors weren't taking many chances on new voices. There weren't as many younger voices writing either. (Hello, Potter effect.)
Almost everybody I knew was at least 15 years older and had much more experience. People frequently commented to me that I was their children's age.
My inner fourteen-year-old was--still is--spinning over the moon.
What I did have to offer the community was enthusiasm, a commitment to what then was called "multiculturalism," and a background in journalism. I embraced the possibilities of the Web and began signal boosting in a big way.
Now, I've been in the business nearly 20 years and am finishing my fifteenth book. Though I still have much to learn, I'm honored to share what I do know, especially with Austin and Texas authors, my VCFA family, new voices, diverse voices and of course Native writers and illustrators.
Along the way, I keep believing, signal boosting, mentoring, teaching, writing and cheerleading.
Spreading the word that good books matter.
Does law influence your storytelling in any way?
Definitely. Law gives me an analytical skill-set that is priceless for plotting and world building. If you look, for example, at the Feral trilogy, the legal status of shape-shifters plays a significant role in the story construct.
By that, I don’t mean that my characters are citing case law or pontificating on legal history but rather that the socio-political-legal structure in which they struggle has been thought out and fully integrated.
On a more obvious level, I’ve written lawyer characters—Cousin Elizabeth from Jingle Dancer (Morrow/HarperCollins, 2000) and, in my current work in progress, the protagonist’s mother is a law student.
When I write Native stories in particular, that heightened awareness comes into play because of the role of law in our nations’ histories and its ongoing importance to our survival today and beyond.
You’ve written that you felt compelled to write for young readers in the wake of the Oklahoma City Bombing. Why for young readers rather than adults?
I feel that hope, too. That faith. I believe in it enough to invest my life’s work.
It’s not that I don’t think adults can grow and change. Of course we can.
But when I close my eyes and imagine a world of heroes, most of the faces I see are those of elders and the young.
Maybe that's because I was raised close to my grandparents, my great aunties and uncles. They faced Indian boarding school, the Great Depression, the second World War.
My first heroes were my elders, starting from the time the were young. Their influence is defining.
What’s the story you’re proudest of, and why?
I want to say that I don’t process my books and shorts in terms of pride, but only moments ago I was telling you about the pride I feel in the progress we’ve made in children’s-YA literature.
So, okay, I’ll close my eyes and keep typing and resist the urge to edit afterward.
I’m most proud of my novel in progress, tentatively titled "How to End a Date" (Candlewick, fall 2017), by which I mean I’m proud of the protagonist.
How she navigates, less and more successfully, all the crap that’s routinely tossed at Native teens and, for that matter, at girls on a day-to-day basis and how she takes refuge in her sense of humor and her loving family and her community and, most of all, how she fights, true to her heart, even when her biggest obstacle is herself.
And since it's loosely based on my own adolescence, I guess I have to say that I'm finally proud of my own inner teen.
So there, Cindy Lou. I believe in you.
Author Interview: Joseph Bruchac on Killer of Enemies from Lee & Low. Peek: "...what really helped me begin to develop this story was the combination of seeing the ways in which building technology into people has become more and more of a reality and the idea that then came to me about how those modified people would be affected if electricity (including circuits implanted into human bodies) suddenly stopped working."
Lately, I’ve been talking to Ambelin Kwaymullina, “an Aboriginal writer and illustrator from the Palyku people” of Australia, about own voices, representation, appropriation and writing across identity elements.
At first glance, when it comes to protagonists and point of view, we may seem to be on opposite ends of a spectrum--her advocating against writing as an outsider and me in favor.
It’s more complicated than that. As we compared notes, we found ourselves agreeing or at least empathizing more than you might assume.
I’m a Muscogee Nation citizen, and I’ve written protagonists who share that identity as well as those who, unlike me, are respectively Chinese American, Mexican American, Italian American, English American, Seminole, and Cherokee. The non-Indians appear in alternating point-of-view novels.
(I’m a Cherokee descendant, not a Cherokee Nation citizen. That translates to shared ancestry and cultural touchstones, but there's a difference. To clarify: I'm likewise Irish American. However, I am not a citizen of Ireland. I am Muscogee and American, a citizen of both Muscogee Nation and the United States of America. Native identity is about culture and heritage, but it's also about law and political status.)
More broadly, when it comes to race, religion, culture, gender, age, orientation, body type, and socio-economics, I write inside my personal experience.
Likewise, I write outside my personal experience. I speak on and teach the subject of writing, including writing across identity elements, on a regular basis.
As I’ve mentioned before, the question of writing outside one’s lived knowledge and most immediate stakes with regard to protagonists (or, in the case of nonfiction, focal subjects) is a very personal one.
Today I’m going to share a glimpse into my own, nuanced process for deciding who and what to write and why. Yes, of course your mileage may vary. It may evolve. Mine has evolved.
I’ve committed quality time, scholarship and tuition dollars to Freedom of Speech.
I’m well aware that rights come with opportunities, costs and responsibilities. And I'm well aware that restrictions on speech tend to hit disempowered people first and the hardest.
I'll restate that:
Restricts on speech tend to hit disempowered people first and the hardest.
Sometimes I exercise my right to speak. Sometimes I exercise my right not to speak.
As a one-time Native child who couldn’t watch “Super Friends” every Saturday morning without also seeing “Elbow Room”every Saturday morning, I fret the impact of erasure (to a cheery tune) and of the single story (in that case, the “helpful Indian”).
Watch this and, if it's not your inherent perspective, try to do so--with your writing cap on--from a Native or POC point of view.
(2) The vast majority of children’s-YA authors must, to varying degrees, write outside our own experience—at least with regard to secondary characters and major historical events or societal topics. This is necessary to reflect the full range of our humanity in the past, present and future.
In a sweeping book about the U.S. Civil War or The Great Depression or the Industrial Revolution, I’m looking for inclusion when it comes to the participation of and impact on Native people, people of color, women, etc. Ditto that contemporary realistic chapter book set in a minority-majority nation or that YA dystopian novel.
Ducking that content isn't a neutral decision. Again, effectively writing Native people off the continent--out of the past, present, and future--isn’t a neutral decision. Over the body of literature, it’s a minimizing one. An erasing one. Silence speaks. It contributes to adverse real-world impact.
After every U.S. election, we actually have to educate the new Congress about our continued existence. Please don't make it harder for us to protect our nations, our land, our children. Remember, we are still here. And we should be reflected in the pages of children's-YA literature.
So, to recap: (1) I'm well versed in freedom of speech. (2) Every children's-YA writer must, to some degree, write outside our immediate frame of reference. Still with me?
Back to protagonists and nonfiction topics. Bookstores vary the titles they stock. Libraries vary their collections. Publishers vary their manuscript acquisitions, and agents vary their clients.
Otherwise their books would compete with each other, and they wouldn’t be able to offer the selection necessary to stay in business.
Choices that heavily favor slender, straight, able-bodied white kids are the norm. Those books are viewed as standard. Viewed as universal. There’s no industry predisposition to limit them.
But every day, other well-written stories are rejected for being “too similar” to an already stocked, purchased, acquired or signed project that’s perceived as similar enough to compete.
Let’s say there’s already one middle grade with an Asian boy protagonist. Will another one be turned down for potentially competing?
“I just acquired an Asian boy middle-grade novel, and, unfortunately….”
Writers get rejection letters to that effect all the time. I’ve read them. Quite a few of them because I teach and mentor and so other writers come to me to discuss such things.
And, granted, stories won’t be rejected just because of common identity elements. It could happen because they’re deemed “too similar” in other ways.
My kitty, Gali-Leo
“I just acquired a novel about soccer, and, unfortunately....”
What is the societal impact of limiting to one book about soccer?
What is the societal impact to limiting to one book about Asian-American boys?
Or one book about Asian Americans--period? Especially since "Asian American" is an umbrella term.
Heaven forbid two Asian-American boy characters in two different stories both happen to play soccer.
Sure, even with mainstream heroes, there are limits:
"Unfortunately, we're already publishing a half dozen dystopians..."
Here's the thing: Writers often panic over new releases that might be "too similar" to our own works in progress, particularly if our own manuscript is well along. We anguish over whether to read the competing title to gauge whether our project is in the clear or not. With nonfiction writers, you'll often hear talk of "getting there first" in the marketplace.
Remember when I mentioned the right to speak and the right not to?
This is what I personally do with that reality:
Halloween decoration that inspired my novel, Feral Curse
I love cats. I love carousels. I’m intrigued by cryptids.
In the Feral series (Candlewick/Walker), I write about werecats, demons, magic and furry cryptid hominids.
The stories take place in Austin, in a nearby small town, in the suburbs, at a resort, and on a tropical island.
These YA books are heartfelt, funny, action packed and teeny bit sexy (if I do say so myself).
The trilogy metaphorically tackles diversity, social justice, and what it means to be human.
No way would the entire cast look like it had been raised by Carol and Mike Brady. Or be depicted simply as white kids from different social groups a' la "The Breakfast Club" (remember when that was a diversity ground-breaker?).
The Feral series' question is: "What does it mean to be human?" My answer isn't: "Let's check in with the all-white heroes to find out." (Although white co-protagonists are certainly included in the mix.)
The series is told in alternating points of view by four co-protagonists, including Kayla, a werecheetah, who presents as Black American, and Yoshi, a werecougar, who presents as a biracial (Japanese-white) American. They’re homo shifters rather than homo sapiens, and they live among us. Within the genre bending, it's a sci-fi-ish fantastical construct.
Now imagine this. An editor reads my manuscript and says: “Too bad! I just signed a story about a smart, small-town, Black Texas teen--the daughter of the mayor--who’s able to turn into a werecheetah, and is being haunted by her ex-boyfriend’s ghost, which is trapped in a carousel. And, wouldn’t you just know it? Both stories feature a Eurasian co-protagonist/love interest, raised in an antique mall by his homicidal grandmother.…”
Really? If another author also independently came up with that specific idea, we are soulmates.
But only one of us is probably going to sell that oh-so-similar book to that one YA fantasy editor at that house. Or sign with that manuscript to that one genre-bendy and cryptid-loving agent.
Libraries and bookstores will stock one or the other. (Unless there’s a major motion picture involved.)
We’re safe to say the Feral series (Candlewick) is an idiosyncratic, diverse spec-fic YA adventure. This is a benefit of a quirky writing nature (Werearmadillos, for example. I may have invented them. That level of quirky.)
Kayla, as one of four co-protagonists, isn’t going to knock a book with another Black girl hero out of contention for anything. And the lived experience that’s most on point is what it’s like to “pass” or not. On that point, I do have lived experience to bring.
Nifty. Green light.
Now consider this: I love the music of Eartha Kitt. I am fascinated by Eartha Kitt.
I believe that Eartha Kitt was the best Catwoman.
The. Best. Catwoman.
Nobody could purr like Eartha Kitt.
She was inspiring, talented, formidable. For years, I’ve longed to write a biography about Eartha.
She’s not a household name or an automatic tie-in to the Black History Month curriculum.
There might be room for one Earth Kitt biography for kids (or teens). I could see that getting published. I can imagine some bookstores and libraries stocking it.
As much as I love Eartha, I can’t imagine them embracing two or more.
So I’m not writing it. But if I weighed all that and moved forward, I would talk to Eartha’s family first for permission and consult with Black author friends, too.
Magazine cover of Eartha in my dining nook
All the while owning that my book could be blocking one by a member of Eartha’s own community.
Would I love that reality? No, but I couldn’t ignore it or dismiss it or explain it away either. And I couldn't wrap myself in the First Amendment and leave it at that because I have the right not to speak, too.
I would have to hold myself to the highest possible writing standard and expect others, especially those with a closer kinship, to do the same.
What's more, I'd have to acknowledge that I was starting at a serious deficit. There are writers with so much more to bring to that manuscript--Black writers, especially those with a strong background in singing and acting, who'd have knowledge and insights to illuminate the awesomeness that was Eartha in important ways that I'd never imagine.
I'm not planning to write that biography of Eartha. But up until a year or so ago, I was seriously considering it.
He and I have more in common. We're both mixed-blood citizens of southeastern Native Nations now based in Oklahoma. I want Native kids to learn about him, to be inspired by his story. I want non-Indian kids to learn about him and rethink the “primitive savage” stereotypes they’re fed.
Still, writing about John would’ve required me to write as an outsider.
I've met him in person in Oklahoma!
I’m not Chickasaw. “Native American” and “American Indian” are umbrella terms. Again, being Muscogee doesn't make me Chickasaw.
Are there shared ties and history between some Native/First Nations people and nations? Yes, more so within regions. But we're not not one in the same.
I hate to say it, but, as with Eartha, there’s probably not room in the market for more than one nonfiction picture book about John Herrington.
Native people are not meaningfully included in the U.S. curriculum. To the extent we're mentioned, the focus isn't on our achievements in space exploration. (Cough.)
There’s no way I would've put down a word of John’s story without his permission. As a First Amendment student, I know that I have the right to do so. As a Native woman, I believe in cultural property but, more to the point, as a human being, I believe in respect and courtesy.
John’s story is not my mine to take. It’s certainly not mine to take for profit.
Besides, to do a good job with it, I would’ve needed not only John’s blessing but also his assistance because the greatest living authority on John is of course John himself.
And if John thought it was a wonderful idea for me to write the story, I would’ve been honored and proceeded from there. (Yes, I would touch base with Chickasaw children’s writers, too.)
Many of the best books written by outsiders come from a place of deep connection and respect, prioritizing impact on young readers--both those directly reflected by the book and those who're not.
These titles were born in the wake of the September 11 attacks after Bethany, a 911 survivor, heard Arun give a speech and found personal solace and healing in it. Later, they worked together to share Arun's stories with kids.
As writers, we succeed when we set aside the self-absorption of intent and entitlement in favor of respect and commitment.
We succeed when we come from a deeply felt place, like Bethany did after 911 and like she does every day when she cradles her own Indian-American baby son.
Bottom line: I never actively began writing the manuscript about John Herrington. It was merely an idea. I had other projects to finish first. I hadn’t yet contacted John to discuss it.
But now I’m absolutely delighted that John’s children’s book, Mission to Space, was recently published by Chickasaw Press.
Imagine if bookstores and libraries didn’t pick it up because another children’s writer (like me) had already gotten there first and with a publisher that has a larger, more powerful industry presence.
Ambelin mentioned that she doesn’t want to see outsiders writing first- or deep third-person point of view. She’s told me that she feels that way in part because she hasn’t seen it done well and in part because of the systematic exclusion of Indigenous voices, own voices.
She doesn’t “want anyone occupying that space until there's something resembling parity of representation of Indigenous writers (and other own voices).”
I’m deeply sympathetic to her perspective and a strong own voices advocate myself.
At the same time, when it comes to Native content, I’m more open to outside voices than Ambelin.
It’s a blessing for Native kids, all kids, that books like those are published, and I’m thrilled to champion them whenever I can.
Moreover, as a southeastern American Indian, considering our history and current ties with Black Americans, I particularly long for more of their voices in the related conversation of books, especially with regard to the intersection of Black Indian tribal citizens.
Big picture, being open to outside writers is no small or unqualified leap of faith.
There is a long and damaging history of outsiders telling "Native" stories, having approached us in the guise of ethnographer, of anthropologist, of writer, of friend. A long and damaging and ongoing effort to mislead, gain trust, and then misrepresent Native lives and narratives. Usually for profit, power or both.
When I say "damaging," that’s not hyperbole. I’m talking about real-world legislation, persecution, and impact on the daily life of every Native person. We are peoples of Nations defined by sometimes hostile law and profoundly affected by that law. Public opinion, education and miseducation affects the making and enforcement of those laws. And then there's the psychological impact on citizens of our Nations, especially on our children and teens.
If you don’t know enough to understand why we’re skittish, suspicious and/or non-responsive, please step back and do more homework before starting that manuscript. Our feelings, actions and sometimes silence are based on real-world experience and concerns.
Of late, I’ve heard a lot of folks speaking in broad terms about the question of who writes what. We talk too often in broad strokes when brushstrokes apply.
It's a much bigger, broader conversation than race, though of course that's a critical component. It's also persistently framed as primarily about white writers' fear and failures.
As if no white writers weigh the responsibilities and costs of appropriation and respectfully seek the appropriate permissions and insights like Debby, working with her husband to share his story.
As if diverse writers can't stretch to successfully write across identity markers like Rita, who can certainly be trusted to respectfully conceptualize, research, frame and integrate story elements and, for that matter, feedback as needed to revise.
As if diversity conversations should default to focus on white, able-bodied, cis-gender, straight folks. That's taking the idea that this isn't all about them and responding with, "But wait, what about them?"
Of course all writers belong in this conversation, but own voices must be prioritized and centered. Meanwhile, the question of "which ideas are right for me?" is something every writer must consider.
By the way, even when you're writing within identity elements, you still need to do research and engage in thoughtful related conversation. My work in progress is quasi-autobiographical, and I have a three-inch thick (and building) research binder. I've consulted with several friends and colleagues about the content and how it rolls out within the context of the story.
When I’ve cited, say, Rita and Debby among my go-to examples with regard to Native content, often the reply is something to the effect that I’m setting the bar sky high. And, yes, that’s true.
The bar is and should be sky high. Maybe we’re not all at Rita and Debby’s level of craft (yet), but we must emulate their gracious humility, their conscientiousness.
We must strive to create the best books for all kids.
We have children’s-YA literature and the law in common. That’s actually a pretty common combination here in the states. Why do you think there are so many people involved in both?
Well, I’ve had some of my law students suggest the law is so horribly dry that it drives people to being creative in order to escape its clutches (these are generally the students who are studying law because their parents thought it was a good idea).
But for me at least, I think the reason I studied law and the reason I write are the same. In both realms, I am seeking justice – and justice, in Aboriginal societies, generally equates to balance, not just between human beings but between all forms of life (and everything lives).
I write speculative fiction because I want to write about the possibility of defeating injustice; to write about the terrible things that were (and are) while imagining what could be.
The oppressive law I wrote about in the Tribe series divides people into three categories: those without an ability (Citizens); those with an ability (Illegals); and those whose ability is considered benign (Exempts).
This is not an invented law. It is based on the Western Australian Natives (Citizenship Rights) Act 1944, a piece of legislation that purported to offer Aboriginal people ‘citizenship’ by exempting us from racially-based restrictions that only applied to my ancestors in the first place because they were Aboriginal.
In the Tribe series, this law is ultimately defeated by an alliance of the marginalised and the privileged, and by a heroine whose power is to identify and sustain the connections between all life.
And in writing of connections, I am writing of something that is central to the law in Aboriginal legal systems where (at its broadest) law is the processes of living in the world that sustain the world.
You clearly articulate the impact of white privilege on writing and writers, noting the negative impact on the work of Native voices and POC voices. What would you say to those Native and POC writers who may find themselves angry, frustrated, hurt or discouraged by these dynamics?
First: it’s not you. Exclusion is not something you are inventing in your head and you are neither unlucky nor unworthy.
It helps in this context to form connections with other Indigenous writers as well as with writers of colour, LGBTI writers, and writers with a disability.
You are likely to hear stories of authors getting similar comments across different contexts (e.g: you’re not writing to the Indigenous experience … this story is too Asian … gay books don’t sell … we’ve already published a ‘disability book’ this year).
It matters to have a network of people with whom to share both the good and bad experiences; and perhaps most importantly, to understand that you are not alone.
Second, never forget how to laugh. Some of the comments I’ve listed above have been part of the experience of other writers that they’ve laughed about with me – not because these comments are not discriminatory and hurtful, but because laughter has always been one of the ways in which marginalised peoples have dealt with pain.
Third, define success in your own terms. We all know what ‘success’ is supposed to be in literary industry terms: book sales and/or critical acclaim (preferably both). I’m not saying we shouldn’t aspire to that. But I also think that if marginalised writers define our success solely in the terms set by an industry that consistently privileges white, straight, cis-gendered people who don’t have a disability, we are also buying into an underlying lie.
The lie is that if we can just prove we are good enough we will be treated equally. But once equality has to be earned, it is no longer equality.
So I think it’s important that each of us define success according to what matters to us – and for me, it’s being a person that my ancestors would be proud of.
Book sales wouldn’t overly interest them. But honouring who they were, and who I am; treating cultural knowledge with respect; helping other Indigenous writers whenever and wherever I can – these are the kinds of things they’d be concerned about.
Fourth: be hopeful. I am. I locate my hope in people, and there are many, many people working towards a world in which all voices have an equal opportunity to speak and all stories are equally heard.
I think change will come, and in the meantime, I’m proud to be a part of a global community of voices, marginalised and privilege alike, that are speaking out for justice.
While you don’t feel it’s appropriate for non-Indigenous writers to reflect your community in first person or deep third, you are open to them writing secondary characters. Why does your opinion differ depending on how centered the character’s perspective is in the story?
I don’t think it’s appropriate for non-Indigenous people to speak as if they are Indigenous, especially given the operation of privilege which means that non-Indigenous voices will be heard in a way that Indigenous voices are not.
For me, writing from an ‘outsider’ perspective (so not in first or deep third) is to respect boundaries; to accept there are limits on what we can know of others and how we should represent others in our own work.
When I write of experiences of marginalisation not my own, I do it from an outsider perspective – reflecting that this is much as I can understand and that understanding may of course be wrong; I am not suggesting that I know what it is to see the world from an ‘insider’ view of a group to which I don’t belong. I think the spaces must be created for everyone to speak to their own worlds, and I want to be part of making those spaces a reality.
What advice do you have for non-Indigenous writers in crafting those secondary characters?
I think something you’ve said is the best place to start – you’ve spoken of the need for writers to read 100 books by Indigenous people before writing about us.
I agree. No one should be writing an Indigenous character without being familiar with Indigenous stories (not the ones told about us but the ones told by us).
It’s also important to ensure that any stories people are reading are ethically published because there is a vast body of Indigenous stories that were taken by anthropologists and others and are now in the public domain without the informed consent (or sometimes even the knowledge) of the Indigenous peoples concerned.
The easiest way to check that a story is appropriately published is to see who holds the copyright; where Indigenous peoples hold copyright in their own stories it is at least some indication that they control the text.
In addition to reading stories, I’d say, become familiar with representation issues. Engage with the online dialogue happening around representation and children’s literature as it relates to Indigenous peoples. There are no shortage of voices speaking in this space.
And finally: words spoken about marginalised peoples have a weight and a cost. But if you are not a member of that group, then it’s a weight that you don’t carry and a cost that you don’t pay.
So don’t measure the impact of your words by how they will be read by people like you. Measure them by how they’ll be read by the people you’re writing about.
How did you learn your craft as a writer and illustrator?
By doing! I have no formal training in writing or illustration. But nor do a lot of Australian Indigenous writers and illustrators, and we have been storytellers for thousands of years.
So to learn craft I look to the work of Indigenous writers and artists, both within Australia and elsewhere, as well as to the ancient teachings of my people.
What inspired you to direct your talents toward creating stories for young readers?
In my YA series, I was writing about a superhero, so it had to be about a teenager. I don’t believe grown ups have it in us to save the world, because we are spectacularly failing to do so.
But in the young I see all the hope for the future – they are more interconnected, quick to embrace new ideas, and passionate about fighting anything they perceive as an injustice.
They’re also more honest, especially the children for whom I write picture books. When they like a book, they write me lovely letters telling me how they sleep with the book under their pillow and begging me to write more. When they don’t like it they’re equally forthright.
People ask sometimes whether its difficult as an author to deal with bad reviews, to which I say: try writing for six-year-olds. Every once in a while, children send me letters about one or the other of my picture books that begin something like this: “My teacher made me read your book. I didn’t like it.”
I’ve had a few of these letters that went on for ten pages or more, and since that length is like War and Peace from a six-year-old, it means I’ve had kids hate my work enough to send me the child equivalent of Tolstoy.
Adverse reviews from grown-ups are nothing in comparison. What was your initial inspiration for The Tribe series?
My brother Blaze. He came up to me one day and said, “I’ve got an awesome title for a book. It’s called The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf.”
I said, “That’s a pretty good title – what’s the story?’
To which Blaze replied, “Oh, there’s no story. Just the name, and I can’t be bothered writing it so I’m giving to you.”
Having bestowed the title of the novel upon me, he wandered off, leaving me to start thinking about the story. (And for anyone who’s read any of the Tribe series, the character of Jaz is very like my brother Blaze).
What were the challenges—literary, research, psychological and logistical—of bringing the stories to life?
I think the primary challenge is this: in so many ways, I wasn’t writing fiction. A post-apocalyptic world is not a fantasy for Indigenous peoples; the colonial apocalypse has already happened and much of The Tribe series is drawn from Australian colonial history.
Much of it too is drawn from the experiences of my ancestors and that is why hope runs so strongly through the narrative. They held on to hope through hard, cruel times when all their choices were taken away from them.
Indigenous peoples are so often spoken of as victims and I certainly don’t wish to minimise the suffering and the multi-generational trauma inflicted upon us by the colonial project. But the very fact that the Indigenous peoples of the world survived determined efforts to destroy us demonstrates our great strength.
I think the ability to hold onto hope is part of that strength and its something I try to honour.
You’ve created several picture books with Sally Morgan. Could you tell us about your work together?
Ambelin with her creative family
So, Sally is my mum. I’ve also done books with my two brothers, Blaze and Zeke, and the four of us have written together as a family. We’re all authors and artists, and we always give each other an honest opinion – sometimes this results in one of us storming off (usually me or Zeke, we’re both excellent stormers).
Generally, once we’ve had a chance to think about the criticism we come creeping sheepishly back and agree that yes, actually, that particular portion of the narrative (which we were previously so proud of) does indeed need more work.
I think from the outside our working process probably looks chaotic; we all talk at the same time and over each other; generally, the person with the best story gets to hold the floor until they get boring and someone else interrupts. If you want a place in the conversation in my family, you have to be prepared to earn it.
What can your readers look forward to next?
I’m working on three YA novels right now, but the one I’ll finish first is a book I’m writing with my brother Zeke.
It’s a mystery with fantasy elements that’s told from the perspective of three Indigenous female protagonists. It’s been a difficult book to write in places because terrible things happen in it, but its ultimately a story about the power of young Indigenous women and how they find their way home.
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This is one of the most gorgeous and effectivecovers I've seen. I love it.Synopsis: Clara and Hailey are twin sisters, and like a lot of sisters, they are closer than close one moment, but in the next, they get on each other's last nerve. Hailey is... Read the rest of this post
Moreover, the same embedded patterns that (for example) consistently privilege White voices over those of Indigenous peoples and Peoples of Colour will also work to privilege outsider voices over insider ones, at least to some degree.
The insider voices, of those fully aware of the great complexities and contradictions of insider existence, will always be more difficult to read and less likely to conform to outsider expectations as to the lives and stories of ‘Others’.
Insider stories can therefore be read as less ‘true’ or trap an insider author in a familiar double-bind – if we write of some of the bleaker aspect of our existence we’re told we’re writing ‘issues’ books; if we don’t we’re accused of inauthenticity.
I would like to think that as an Indigenous woman, I have some insight into marginalisation not my own. I have always thought that any experience of injustice should always increase our empathy and push us towards a greater understanding of injustice in other contexts.
But that does not mean my experiences equate to that of other peoples.
In an Australian context, I have said that I do not believe non-Indigenous authors should be writing Indigenous characters from first person perspective or deep third, because I don’t think a privilege problem can be solved by writers of privilege speaking in the voices of the marginalised.
And I apply the same limitation to myself in relation to experiences and identities not my own.
But between the thought and the action must come the process by which I determine if I am really helping at all.
So I ask myself, is the story mine to tell? The answer is no, of course; their stories are their own and their pain is not my source material.
The only way in which I would write from someone else’s perspective is in equitable partnership with someone from that group (where copyright, royalties and credit are shared).
This would not necessarily mean we each wrote half a novel. The other person may not write a word; their contribution could be in opening a window onto insider existence and correcting the mistakes an outsider inevitably makes.
I’ve had people tell me that this is the job of a sensitivity reader. But I am cautious about the boundaries of that relationship because I think there are cases where the input of an insider advisor infuses the narrative to such a degree that they are really a co-author and should be treated as such.
I don’t think the question is who wrote what words, but whether the story could have been told at all but for the contribution of the insider.
Someone once told me that I was restricting myself as a storyteller. I don’t believe I am.
I am acknowledging boundaries, but boundaries do not necessarily limit or restrict. Boundaries can define a safe operating space, for myself and for others, and respect for individual and collective boundaries is part and parcel of acknowledging the inherent dignity of all human beings.
I have begun co-writing a speculative fiction YA novel that is told from the perspectives of two girls: one Chinese, and one Indigenous. I am writing the Indigenous girl, and Chinese-Australian author Rebecca Lim is writing the Chinese girl.
The original idea for the story was Rebecca’s, but already it is changing as we each negotiate our own identities and experiences.
This is not a story that is restricted by boundaries; it is one that would not exist without them. In the writing of it, Rebecca and I are creating something that is greater than the sum of both of us – and in such stories, I see the future.
I had no idea how beneficial an agent could be when I attended my first SCBWI conference in October 2013.
I quickly realized how much about the industry I did not know.
I began to network with other children's writers, especially fellow Native Americans, and when it came time to look for an agent, I utilized that network extensively.
I questioned fellow writers with representation, especially those from Native/people of color backgrounds, about their experience. I asked how agents had presented themselves at conferences or other events. I read agent online interviews and social media posts.
I wanted my agent to be a steadfast partner with a strong work ethic. It is a long-term relationship, so both people have to be dedicated to maintaining it. I required someone who was excited about my work and associated with a well-respected agency.
Traci's Reading Chair
Ideally, I wanted someone who had editorial experience that reflects what I write—fiction, nonfiction, and Native/POC subjects. To be honest, this makes for a small submission list, so I did expand beyond that.
When I communicated with agents via email and telephone, I tracked whether what they shared reflected my list.
My gut got an extreme workout when I received two offers of representation on the same day. I cannot stress enough the importance of developing and checking in with trusted mentors.
Ultimately, I accepted Emily Mitchell's offer of representation with Wernick & Pratt Agency. She met every single item on my list. Her clients contacted me quickly and gave their honest feedback about her representation.
Emily had vetted me with my editor at Charlesbridge, her former employer. We had both done our homework.
To me, it is kismet that Emily presented at that first conference I attended—and in my home state of Oklahoma too! That day, she shared her desired client attributes—voice, authority, pragmatism and flexibility. I'd like to think I resemble her list, too.
She also worked as an attorney assisting tribal courts nationwide, advocated for national Native American health care, and directed a national nonprofit serving American Indian and Alaska Native elders. She now lives in the Kansas City area.
See also Story to Contract: Traci Sorell’s Incredible Journey by Suzanne Slade from Picture Book Builders. Peek: "Be grateful. Every day. If you approach your creativity and the process of writing from a place of gratitude, it opens you up. You will be more aware of story ideas, available to hear critiques that improve your craft, and connected to others around you in the kidlit world. Gratitude opens up receptivity."
Emily Mitchell began her career at Sheldon Fogelman Agency, handling submissions, subsidiary rights, and coffee. She spent eleven years at Charlesbridge Publishing as senior editor, contracts manager, and director of corporate strategy. After a brief post-MBA stint in the non-publishing world, Emily returned to children's books at Wernick & Pratt.
Like their forebears in the 1960s, today’s students blasted university leaders as slick mouthpieces who cared more about their reputations than about the people in their charge. But unlike their predecessors, these protesters demand more administrative control over university affairs, not less. That’s a childlike position. It’s time for them to take control of their future, instead of waiting for administrators to shape it.
In Hammer of Witches fourteen-year-old bookmaker’s apprentice Baltasar, pursued by a secret witch-hunting arm of the Inquisition, joins Columbus’s expedition to escape and discovers secrets about his own past that his family had tried to keep hidden. In this BookTalk, Shana Mlawski shares her views on Christopher Columbus, working with students and what she’d wish for if she had three wishes.
Hammer of Witches deals with some hard topics (rape, abandonment, war, and torture). What do you hope readers take away from Hammer of Witches?
Shana Mlawski: When I was first outlining Hammer of Witches, I knew I wanted it to be an epic adventure about sorcerers in 1492 Spain, and that’s what it is. I didn’t go in thinking, “Oh, boy! I can’t wait to write about rape and torture!” It was more like, “Okay, it’s going to be about this wisecracking kid and a girl genie and a dragon and a golem and…”
But history is history. I’m not going to whitewash it. We have plenty of people doing that already. In the year of 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue—and Spain conquered Moorish Granada, the Inquisition tortured people, the decimation of Taíno civilization began, and the world’s largest Jewish population was sent into exile. It’s a complex, fascinating era, but it’s a tragic era, as well. Ultimately, though, Hammer of Witches is an optimistic book. It’s about that moment when you accept that the world is more complicated than you were led to believe, and it’s at that moment you can start trying to make a difference.
Do you feel like schools glorify Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the New World? Do you think schools need to paint a more accurate portrayal of his journey to students?
SM: The fact that we use the word “discovery” shows how skewed our view of the voyages can be. I prefer “contact” and “conquest,” words that remind us we’re talking about two groups: the European explorers and the Taíno living in the Caribbean at the time. If you ask me, the Taíno side of the story needs to get much more play in classrooms and in the media.
I’d also prefer if teachers stopped asking whether Columbus is a hero or a monster, as if those are the only two options. When we answer “hero,” we disappear the Taíno from history or write off their struggle as unimportant. To argue the “monster” side, we often pretend the Taíno were passive (if noble and pure) victims. The story is so much more complicated than that, and so much more interesting. History is only useful to us when we remember it’s about humans like us, not cartoons.
Baltasar befriends a genie in Hammer of Witches, who, unfortunately, can’t grant wishes. If you met a genie who could grant you three wishes, what would you wish for and why?
SM: Oh, I’m not going to fall for this one. I’ve seen and read enough “Monkey’s Paw”-type stories to get involved with a genie. Next thing I know I’ll be sitting in a post-apocalyptic library with my glasses broken and no one left alive to fix them.
How has working directly with middle and high school students impacted the kind of stories you want to share with YA readers?
SM: My teaching experience has definitely sharpened my desire to tell stories about characters from different backgrounds. When I was a young nerd-in-training, most of the available fantasy books were about white, Christian kids in the U.S., Britain, or U.K.-inspired settings (the big exception being Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea series). Although I’m white, those monochrome stories never reflected my experience as a child growing up in the New York Metro area. When I started teaching and tried to recommend books to my students, I saw how little things had changed. A black boy wanting to read about a kid who looked like him usually had to go for a “problem” book about drug use or gang violence, even if he wanted a sword-and-sorcery adventure. A girl looking for a Latina protagonist could find a book about the immigrant experience but not one about, say, sexy vampires. That’s why I’m not sucking up when I say I love that Lee & Low and Tu Books exist, and I’m incredibly proud to be part of the gang.
Did you have a favorite hero or heroine in a fantasy/sci-fi novel that inspires your writing?
SM: I don’t actively model my characters on heroes or heroines from other books, but that doesn’t mean inspiration doesn’t slip in from time to time. It does, but I usually don’t notice until long after I’ve finished writing the story. This time around, it occurred to me that the relationship between Baltasar and Catalina has a lot in common with the Taran/Eilonwy relationship in Lloyd Alexander’sChronicles of Prydain (although Bal has some Fflewddur Fflam in him, too). In any event, I’m cool with the connection, because Hammer of Witches is meant to be a play on Prydain-like stories. It’s what happens when you take that old quest story, brush off the dust, and stick it in the real world in 1492.
Shana Mlawski is a native New Yorker who writes educational materials and tutors middle and high school students. She has written more than a hundred articles for the pop culture website OverthinkingIt.com, some of which have been featured in The Atlantic Monthly, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, and Ms. magazine. She graduated cum laude from Yale with a B.A. in English with a concentration in creative writing, and received a master’s in education from Columbia University Teachers College. Hammer of Witches is her first novel.
The weather is crisp and the leaves are starting to change color…it must be fall! Now that we’ve made it to October, we wanted to help you plan out the month with these book recommendations and resources:
If you’re a new writer, looking for ways to publish a book can be daunting. It’s great that we live in a time where there’s a wealth of information at our fingertips, but a simple Google search may not get you the results that you’re looking for. So where should a writer go to find resources on how to get published as well as resources on craft?
Below we’ve compiled a list of websites, interviews, and blog posts from our very own editors that discuss writing and the publishing industry. We hope these resources serve as a starting point for any budding writer embarking on their very first writing journey.
Advice for New Writers
In this blog post, editor Stacy Whitman answers questions with author Joseph Bruchac about writing, query letters, and publishing. You can also read the full AMA (Ask Me Anything) thread on Reddit here.
We’ve chosen the following sites as useful places to gain knowledge about the publishing industry and writing. We’ve even added a few links for illustrators. Click here for a list of recommended books for writers.
The Children’s Book Council (CBC)
CBC offers an up-to-date listing of its member publishers and contact names, as well as a diverse range of resources for writers and illustrators.
The online resource for children’s illustrators, publishers and book lovers.
Write for Kids
This site is dedicated to writing children’s books, with message boards and other helpful articles for published and aspiring writers. Recommended by Andrea Huelsenbeck.
Poets & Writers
A more adult-oriented site, but there are listings of calls for submissions for writers, a listserv for people to discuss writing issues, and other resources particularly for writers. They also have a news section where they keep people updated on the most recent happenings in publishing.
Pubishers Weekly (PW)
The electronic version of the print magazine. PW serves as a resource for following the publishing industry.
As we all know one of the best ways to catch an editor’s eye is to submit a grammatically correct manuscript. These should help:
The Elements of Style (online)
Believe it or not, this little manual which is required reading for every writing course is on-line. As far as convenience, I think the paper edition is more portable, but if you’re writing at your computer anyway and need to look something up you’re just a mouse click away.
The Society of Illustrators
Mission: To promote and stimulate interest in the art of illustration, past, present and future, and to give impetus generally toward high ideals in the art by means of exhibitions, lectures, educational programs, social intercourse, and in such other ways as may seem advisable.
We hope these websites, blog posts, and interviews serve as great resources for any writer preparing their work for publication.
Is there anything that we missed? Please share in the comments below!
When eight-year-old Irene is removed from her First Nations family to live in a residential school she is confused, frightened, and terribly homesick.
She tries to remember who she is and where she came from, despite the efforts of the nuns who are in charge at the school and who tell her that she is not to use her own name but instead use the number they have assigned to her.
When she goes home for summer holidays, Irene's parents decide never to send her and her brothers away again.
But where will they hide? And what will happen when her parents disobey the law?
Based on the life of co-author Jenny Kay Dupuis’ grandmother, I Am Not a Number is a hugely necessary book that brings a terrible part of Canada’s history to light in a way that children can learn from and relate to.
As an author-educator, how do your various roles inform one another?
My roles as an educator and author are intrinsically interconnected. I'm always searching for meaningful, engaging ways to reach out to young people so they can learn more about topics pertaining to Indigenous realities, diversity, social and cultural justice, and respectful relationships.
While working in the field of education, I realized that there were not many children's picture books available that focused on Indigenous realities through the lens of a First Nations family.
Co-writing I Am Not a Number with Kathy Kacer gave me the opportunity to reflect on the value of literature for young people and how educators and families can make use of picture books to start conversations about critical, real-world issues.
When writing my granny's story, I realized that I was drawing on my expertise as an Indigenous community member, educator and learning strategist. I was cognizant of how children's literature can be used as a gateway to encourage young readers to unpack a story ("community memories"), think critically, and guide them to form their own opinions about issues of assimilation, identity loss, oppression, and injustice; all of which are major themes deeply rooted in policies that have either impacted or still impact Indigenous peoples.
Jenny Kay Dupuis
A children's picture book like, I Am Not a Number can support educators, students, and families to engage in deep and meaningful conversations.
The story is about my granny, who was taken from Nipissing First Nation reserve at a young age to live at a residential school in 1928.
The book can be used to direct conversations about not only Indigenous histories, but also the importance of exploring the underlying concepts of social change, including aspects of power relations, identity, and representation. For instance, young readers can engage in a character analysis by exploring the characters' ethics, motivations and effects of behaviours, and the impact of social, cultural, and political forces.
Through strong characters, written words, and vivid illustrations, the readers can also explore aspects of imagery, the settings, and the power of voice (terminology) used to express feelings of strength, fear, loss, and hope.
My hope as an educator-author is that the book, I Am Not a Number, will inspire others to use children's literature to encourage young people to begin to talk about past and present injustices that Indigenous communities face.
How did the outside (non-children's-YA-lit) world react to the news of your sale?
I Am Not a Number was released on Sept. 6. The reviews have been overwhelmingly positive in Canada and the United States so far. One of the review sources, Kirkus Reviews, described it as "a moving glimpse into a not-very-long-past injustice." Booklist also gave it a starred review and highly recommended it. Other book reviewers have recommended it for teachers, librarians, and families.
As a lead up to the launch of the book, I was asked by various groups (mostly educators) to present either in person or through Skype about topics linked to Indigenous education and the value of children's young adult literature. The sessions have been helpful for the participants to see how a book like I Am Not a Number and others can be used.
The book will also be available in French in early January by Scholastic.
What would you have done differently?
By Jenny's co-author, Kathy Kacer
A children's book is typically limited to a set number of pages. If more space was permitted, I would have liked to include a short description in the afterword of what happened after my granny and her siblings returned home from the residential school.
In my granny's case, she enrolled in an international private school. The school was located nearby on the shores of Lake Nipissing.
It offered her an opportunity to stay in her community with her family while still receiving an education. Her siblings also each chose their own life path.
What advice do you have for beginning children's YA-writers? How about diverse writers for young people? Native/First Nations writers for young people?
Although my first book is a story about my granny who was taken from her First Nations community at a young age to live in a residential school, we need to recognize that there are countless other community stories that need to be told by Indigenous peoples.
My advice for anyone who wants to get started writing children's-YA literature is relatively straightforward.
photo credits to Les Couchi for restoration of the photo
Have confidence in your abilities. Start by exploring a topic that you know about.
Be honest and authentic. Prepare to gather information to ensure the authenticity of the story through an accurate portrayal of the people, place, time period, experiences, language, and setting.
Be purposeful, thoughtful, and intentional. Take the time to identify what is the intended impact of the story. Writers need to continually ask themselves, "How will the readers be influenced by the characters, language, and overall messaging? How will the reader's view of their own world be expanded?
Be authentic. Since I Am Not a Number is a children's picture book, it was important that it include authentic imagery. A relative of mine, Les Couchi, had restored a series of old family photos. The old photos helped to inform decisions when communicating with the illustrator, Gillian Newland about the hairstyles, what items to include in my great-grandfather's shop, etc. One of the old photos is included in the book and shows my granny and her siblings outside their house.
Identify your responsibilities. Sometimes writers from diverse backgrounds have a greater responsibility that includes not just writing the story, but also educating others and transmitting knowledge about cultural, social, political, or economic issues buried within the story. In this instance, I Am Not a Number is not just about a First Nation's girl who was taken to live in a residential school, but it is a story that raises consciousness that Irene (my granny) is one of over hundreds of thousands of Indigenous children impacted by assimilation policies and racialized injustice.
Be patient and anticipate a lengthy process that may involve information gathering, several rounds of edits, fact checking, searching for the right illustrator, etc. As such, I regularly turned to my family between edits to get their feedback and continued to listen to their memories. Some of the stories included memories of how my great-grandmother often made the best homemade meat pies, baked breads, jams, and preserves.
Realize that your work is reflection of you. Just because something was done a certain way in the past, does not always make it right today. Be prepared to speak up and ask questions when you feel something does not feel right as you progress throughout the process, especially if you feel it feel it impacts your own ethics and values, or misrepresents a person's/group's racial or cultural identity or nation.
Discuss participation, consent and consultation. It is essential that publishers who engage with Indigenous authors fully recognize Indigenous expertise and honour the importance of how to respectfully work in collaboration with Indigenous peoples by ensuring their full participation, consultation, and informed consent at all stages.
Dr. Jenny Kay Dupuis is of Anishinaabe/Ojibway ancestry and a proud member of Nipissing First Nation. She is an educator, community researcher, artist, and speaker who works full-time supporting the advancement of Indigenous education.
Jenny's interest in her family's past and her commitment to teaching about Indigenous issues through literature drew her to co-write I Am Not a Number, her first children's book. The book can be ordered from a favourite bookstore (Indiebound) and online from Amazon.ca, Amazon.com, and Indigo.
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With a waiting list of more than 400 students, Vanessa Osbourne knew she needed to offer another option for the kids who weren’t going to be able to participate in the pre-kindergarten program.
Daniel Dominguez-Carmona shows the actions of a dragonfly to WSFCS Ready Schools Coordinator Eva Phillips in his “Pathway to K” classroom. Image via Winston-Salem Journal.
“We wanted to make sure that if those kids didn’t get a Pre-K experience that we offer something for them before school started,” said Osbourne, program coordinator for Winston-Salem, Forsyth County Schools.
Osbourne developed Pathway to K, a three-week course at the end of the summer designed to prepare kids who wouldn’t otherwise participate in Pre-K for kindergarten and introduce them to the kinds of activities they’ll be doing in school.
Thanks to a generous grant from the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, Pathway to K is able to access the First Book Marketplace and all that it has to offer. Each classroom has multiple sets of diverse books that aim to reach each and every child. When the program has parent engagement nights, kids and their guardians receive a brand new, high-quality book to take home.
Some of the parents or guardians participating in Pathway to K work multiple jobs and are striving every day to provide opportunities for their children, and it’s not always easy. The opportunity to participate in a kindergarten readiness program is huge for many families.
“We had a grandmother who was so excited when her grandson got in to Pathway to K,” Vanessa said. “She acted like it was a college application. When we told her, ‘Of course he got in,’ she ran around shouting, ‘He got in! He got in!’”
A program like Pathway to K is worth getting excited about. Vanessa uses her 30 years of experience in education to make sure each child is getting a well-rounded experience. During the three-week program children are introduced to books, practice counting and sorting and learn social and emotional skills.
But there is one thing that Vanessa hopes Pathway to K can instill in its tiny participants.
“Building that love of reading.”
Pathway to K was able to receive books through First Book’s partnership with Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust. If you work with children in need, you can access books and resources for your organization through the First Book Marketplace.
Synopsis: Sacrifice is the sequel to Serpentine (reviewed here), and follows the continuing quest of Skybright to save her world and the people she loves from encroaching demons. By the end of the first book (minor spoilers ahead, so you might want... Read the rest of this post
LEE & LOW BOOKS celebrates its 25th anniversary this year and to recognize how far the company has come, we are featuring one title a week to see how it is being used across the country in classrooms and libraries today.
Today we are featuring one of our favorite titles: George Crum and the Saratoga Chip.This fun story looks at the history behind everyone’s favorite snack food: the potato chip!
About the book: Growing up in the 1830s in Saratoga Springs, New York, isn’t easy for George Crum. Picked on at school because of the color of his skin, George escapes into his favorite pastimes — hunting and fishing.
Soon George learns to cook too, and as a young man he lands a job as chef at the fancy Moon’s Lake House. George loves his work, except for the fussy customers, who are always complaining! One hot day George’s patience boils over, and he cooks up a potato dish so unique it changes his life forever.
Readers will delight in this spirited story of the invention of the potato chip — one of America’s favorite snack foods. George Crum and the Saratoga Chip is a testament to human ingenuity, and a tasty slice of culinary history.
Awards and Honors:
Texas Bluebonnet Masterlist, Texas Library Association
Best Children’s Books of the Year, Bank Street College of Education
Distinguished Children’s Biography List, Cleveland Public Library
Author Gaylia Taylorbegan writing for children after she retired from many years working as a Reading Recovery® teacher. Taylor stumbled across George Crum’s story while researching African American inventors on the Internet.
“I’m always looking for a story to tell, and George Crum caught my attention because his invention, the potato chip, is loved by so many people,” says the author in an interview. “I have to admit that a story about the potato chip peaked my own curiosity, because it is my favorite snack.” The more Taylor read about George Crum, the more interested she became in his life. The author says that all her research described George Crum as having a very distinct and colorful personality. “I just couldn’t let him go,” says Taylor. “I said, ‘George, we’ve got a story to tell!’”
Resources for Teaching With George Crum and the Saratoga Chip:
LEE & LOW BOOKS celebrates its 25th anniversary this year! To recognize how far the company has come, we are featuring one title a week to see how it is being used in classrooms today and hear from the authors and illustrators.
Today, we are celebrating Chess Rumble, which explores the ways this strategic game empowers young people with the skills they need to anticipate and calculate their moves through life.
Synopsis: In Marcus’s world, battles are fought everyday—on the street, at home, and in school. Angered by his sister’s death and his father’s absence, and pushed to the brink by a bullying classmate, Marcus fights back with his fists.
One punch away from being kicked out of school and his home, Marcus encounters CM, an unlikely chess master who challenges him to fight his battles on the chess board. Guarded and distrusting, Marcus must endure more hard lessons before he can accept CM’s help to regain control of his life.
Awards and Honors:
Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, American Library Association (ALA)
Notable Books in the Language Arts, National Council of Teachers of English
Lee Bennett Hopkins Promising Poet Award, International Reading Association (IRA)
Top Picks for Reluctant Readers, BoysRead.org
G. Neri, an award-winning filmmaker whose work has earned him several honors. Inspired by his editor, Jennifer Fox, who had wanted to do an urban chess story for years and finally saw the possibility of making it come to life through him, Neri dove into the project with unbridled enthusiasm. “I loved the idea of using chess strategy as a way to approach life. I had dealt with a few teens who had come from troubled pasts and had difficulty finding an outlet for their inner struggle. So the idea of pairing a kid like this with a chess mentor who did not back down came naturally. It was a very organic process, and I let the characters tell me their stories.”
Neri hopes that readers will come away from Chess Rumble “think[ing] about their lives and the choices they make before they make them.” Pressed to continue, Neri says, “I hope they are intrigued to play chess, and maybe start thinking about acting on, instead of reacting to, negative situations. Acting considers what can happen if you make one choice versus another. Reacting just responds impulsively to the problem instead of thinking ahead three steps and maybe making a better choice.”
How fantastic is it that the theme for this year's Banned Books Week (Sept. 25 - Oct. 1) is Frequently Challenged Books with Diverse Content? We are all about books with diverse content here (well, not ALL, but it's one of the themes we feature... Read the rest of this post
This award sends 2500 copies of the winning book to schools and programs across the country, and all of a sudden, Tilly was in the hands of young people, in schools, classrooms and friendship centres and it became a YA book.
Thank you for your kind words about My Heart Fills. Working with Julie was a true privilege. We spoke on many occasions about the message and illustrations; it was a beautiful collaboration.
My Heart Fills with Happiness was inspired when I was facilitating a workshop on our history and resilience at an Aboriginal Head Start program.
At lunch, the children joined us and I witnessed a Kookum (Grandma) sitting in her chair and her grandson came running over to her. He stood in front of her and she took his face in his hands and his whole body changed. His shoulders went back, his chin came up and his eyes lit up.
What I saw was the way she looked at him with such love filled his heart with happiness. This got me thinking about what fills my heart and our hearts as human beings. A couple weeks later, I was visiting with five of my dear friends and as we were talking, the book came.
Literally, in one quick write, it was done. Only one line has been changed. My next children's book, called You Hold Me Up has also been inspired by Aboriginal Head Start. This is such a powerful program in our country and now has been running across our country for over 20 years and has 50,000 graduates. Culture and Language as well as Family Involvement are two of the six components of this program and as a result it is a significant aspect to the healing of Residential Schools in Canada.
What were the challenges between spark and publication, and what lessons were learned along the way?
This book was a gift from the Ancestors, I know that with every fibre of my being, Cynthia.
Her first book!
As I said above, there was only one line change and in the end there were three publishing companies that wanted to purchase it.
There were some miscommunications with the design between myself and Orca Publishing and as a result I think we have both learned the importance of ensuring connection throughout the project.
I know that this is a new way of relationships between author and publisher, but in these times of reconciliation, it is critical we work together instead of the publisher having all the power and decision making.
What did Julie Flett’s illustrations bring to your text? (Full disclosure: I'm a fan.)
Oh Julie! As I said above, it was a privilege to collaborate with Julie. When Orca informed me it was going to be Julie Flett illustrating My Heart Fills with Happiness I literally did a happy dance in my office. Not only do I admire Julie's contribution to literature; both as an author and illustrator, but I also have profound respect for her as a human being.
I think Julie's illustrations bring the words alive. The way she was able to capture the tender nuances on facial expressions and body postures is precious!
And the cover, I have had numerous girls say to me, "look, that's me on the cover." I think that says it all! When a child sees themselves on the pages it is incredibly affirming for them and in some ways, their right to be seen.
We all need to be seen and heard, but for generations literature has not only not seen us as Indigenous people, but especially not Indigenous women and girls.
Let me simply say, Julie's illustrations make this book what it is!
Tilly is loosely based on my life through Tilly's journey and the characters she meets they tell aspects of our history as Indigenous people in Canada. It weaves together some of our traditional teachings, culture and ways of being.
It also speaks to my personal journey of alcoholism and recovery and the beautiful relationship Tilly has with her alcohol & drug counsellor, Bea.
How have you grown as writer over time?
Oh yes, I am still growing...and to be honest, hope to never stop growing. I am not a trained writer, so I need exceptional editing support.
One of the aspects where I feel I have grown the most is being willing to let the story flow through me.
I used to want to interrupt and pause the story, but now I close my eyes and type away or I share what I'm thinking into my phone. Especially dialogue between characters, that seems to come to me in the place between wakefulness and sleep.
What advice do you have for beginning writers?
Pay attention. Notice your surroundings, the mannerisms of individuals, the ways people speak, how the light looks on the land at different times.
I'd also say, put yourself out there: let others read your work, send it in to contests, send it to publishers. And remember, you will get on of three responses. Yes. Not yet. Or I have something even better in mind.
View of Gonzales Bay from Monique's office
How about Native American/First Nations authors?
Our people are craving to read our stories and stories that they can see themselves and their lived experiences in. Write them, share them. And if writing them isn't necessarily comfortable, talk them.
On most phones, there is the microphone app on email, if you record your story and then send it to yourself by email it will come as text and voila, you have your first draft.
I would also remind you of the importance of ceremony when writing. I find it helps ground me and opens me for the story to come through me. Offerings of gratitude help me every single day, not only when I am writing, but every day.
I would also say read as much as you can and raise up and talk about those you are reading.
Often when we look at biographies featuring people of color, they repeat the same themes: slavery & civil rights, music, sports. But people of color have contributed positively in every field, including the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math. These contributions should be celebrated all year long, not just during heritage months or when there’s a special focus on diversity!
Today on the blog, we feature 5 STEM innovators of color. Who else would you add to the list?
Founder of the Japanese car brand Honda, Soichiro Honda had an inventive mind and a passion for new ideas, and he never gave up on his dream. A legendary figure in the world of manufacturing, Honda is a dynamic symbol of lifelong determination, creativity, and the power of a dream.
Dr. Gordon Sato spent part of his childhood in the Manzanar Internment Camp during WWII, and later became a scientist. He created the Manzanar Project, which found a way to use mangrove trees to provide fuel and food for communities in Eritrea. With alternating verse and prose passages, The Mangrove Tree invites readers to discover how Dr. Gordon Sato’s mangrove tree-planting project transformed an impoverished village into a self-sufficient community.
Wangari Maathai was the first African woman and environmentalist to win a Nobel Peace Prize. Seeds of Change brings to life her empowering story, from her childhood in Kenya to her role leading a national movement.
Vivien Thomas was an African-American surgical technician who developed the procedures used to treat blue baby syndrome. Overcoming racism and resistance from his colleagues, Vivien ushered in a new era of medicine—children’s heart surgery. This book is the compelling story of this incredible pioneer in medicine.
Muhammad Yunus is an economist from Bangladesh who founded Grameen Bank and pioneered the concepts of microcredit and microfinance, for which he won a Nobel Peace Prize. Twenty-two Cents is an inspiring story of economic innovation and a celebration of how one person—like one small loan—can make a positive difference in the lives of many.
Check out LEE & LOW BOOKS’ Building Classroom Community Unit for First Grade! The FREE and downloadableunit consists of eight read aloud lesson plans to inspire your best classroom community yet.
The start of first grade is ripe with opportunities for building long-lasting positive school behaviors and attitudes. Time spent building relationships and establishing social and academic expectations can pay dividends all year long.
Using a rich collection of diverse picture books to support this work lays the foundation for a classroom culture of appreciation and acceptance.
The Building Classroom Community Unit for First Gradeconsists of eight read alouds and provides a structured approach for this important work, yet the lessons are flexible enough for you to teach language and behaviors specific to your students’ population, preferences, and goals. Each lesson is intended for multiple days so that from the beginning students are exposed to close reading and the value of multiple readings. We believe the first eight read alouds, or roughly the first two months of school, are critical to setting the tone of your classroom community, read aloud procedures, and expectations for engagement.
review and build on the expectations for listening and discussion participation introduced in kindergarten, with a new emphasis on staying focused on a topic and building on others’ responses
encourage students to learn about one another through discussions of favorite individual and family pastimes and goals for the year ahead
engage in rigorous yet developmentally appropriate discussions about crucial topics such as individual strengths and challenges, managing disagreements kindly, and persevering through mistakes and difficult tasks
Each lesson may be used as a stand alone, but we hope that using these books as a broad unit will help lay the foundation for a strong classroom community with strong learning expectations. We designed the unit to spiral. Additionally, each lesson and book can be adapted for other grades (and we hope you will do this!).
Book extension activities encourage exploration of these topics through writing, drama, and art, as well as lay the foundation for collaborative learning during your year.