Friday, August 14, 2009

A List of 50 Multicultural Books with Not a Single South Asian Title?

Neesha Meminger brought to my attention the fact that the CCBC list of 50 Multicultural Titles Every Child Should Read, which is also featured on the NEA web site, doesn't have a single South Asian title on it. Not one.

Mind you, this is a worthy list, developed by caring people at a greatly respected institution. I also know that the list was first drawn up in 2001. The 2006 revision added a couple of titles I'm very pleased to see--Cynthia Leitich Smith's Indian Shoes, and Jackie Woodson's Show Way. But really, I wonder why there's no South Asian content at all, in any of the categories. Pooja Makhijani's bibliography contains a number of titles across the age range with South Asian themes. They are by a range of writers, some of South Asian origin and some not. Perhaps, this being 2009, it's time for another look.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Updates and Downloads

Scholastic India announces the publication of Amazing India, an encyclopedic book that I for one am delighted to see. Perhaps it can take the place of those interminable educational series titles about India that keep getting published in the US, even when they're full of errors in their facts, pronunciation keys, and sometimes even picture captions. Here's an interview by a 10th grader with the authors of Amazing India, Anita and Amit Vachharajani.

Congratulations to Sandhya Nankani on her article on South Asian historical fiction in the summer issue of the MultiCultural Review. The article includes reviews of several current titles and commentary on historical fiction with South Asian content in the American youth literature market.

Fans of Grace Lin's tender, generous, funny middle grade novel, The Year of the Dog will want to read her new book, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. Virtual launch at partygraces.

My little vegetable garden has bunches of lovely wriggling earthworms this year thanks to sheet mulching and kitchen scraps, so Carol Brendler's new picture book, Winnie Finn, Worm Farmer really stirs my compost! Illustrations by the versatile and gifted Ard Hoyt.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

And So? Cover images in YA novels

Some of us have been following the debate over the cover image on the US edition of Justine Larbalestier's forthcoming novel, Liar. And groaning, because sometimes the decisions made about covers seem just, well, baffling. Or maybe not. Either of which option is a little depressing.

The Ya Ya Yas take this topic on by examining an enormous array of Asian Americans on YA fiction covers. Funny that all the figures need to be so far away or shadowed that you can't see their faces, or close up so all you can see is eyelashes or belly-buttons. And that's not even getting to whether the figure in fact looks like someone from the community the book's set in, or is after a kind of generic "Asian-American" look, whatever that is.

I did a quick check of the covers of books on my shelf with South Asian protagonists and here's what I found. They don't de-brown the characters, not quite, but they often lighten them up, face them backwards, hide their faces, or do that heads-cut-off thing that seemed to be a trend in YA girl novels in general. Or the images are so close-up that the girl is all eyelashes, or all bellybutton. Where there's a sari, it's usually red or orangey-red or goldish, like a wedding sari, you know. It's always Banarasi, regardless of the region of the subcontinent used in the book. It also always has a gold border, because heavens, don't we all walk our teens about dressed in gold-bordered saris all the time? There are of course no regional differences evident in these covers at all, so that a book set in a southern family is likely to manifest clothes and jewelry straight from the windows of Delhi boutiques.

None of which would matter, of course, except that as Justine points out in her blog, most readers have no idea that the author didn't personally endorse the cover decision.

In the realm of the adult literary market, Mary Anne Mohanraj takes the conversation in another direction, when she analyzes covers of books writen by South Asian women and men. Sawnet features multiple covers by a number of books by South Asian women, a few of them adult-YA crossovers. I'm especially intrigued by Mary Anne's observation that the books by women in her sample featured bodies that were still or at rest, not active or in motion. Come to think of it, that's true for every single YA book I've seen with a South Asian female protagonist. And now I'm thinking, is Shyam Selvadurai's Swimming in the Monsoon Sea the only YA book with a South Asian male protagonist? And yes, the kid's active on that cover, throwing himself into the water in a great energetic arc. And the color is blue-green, no reds in sight. Mary Anne, you may be onto something!