Sunday, December 30, 2007

Updates and Downloads

Transitioning yet again from India to the US, it seems I can now blog in Hindi if I want to. Wait. Not on my Mac, I can't. Downloaded the little icon to my edit page and all, but nope, the PC-jinx turns my carefully crafted Namaste into a series of question-marks.
Children's Literature Association India is holding its second annual conference in Mangalore in January 2008. The theme is Politics and Polemics. An excerpt from the web site reads: "Children are told stories that would help them construct a world view, a cultural context, to define what they are and what they believe. Nevertheless, how much truth do we tell them? Do not adult politics and polemics creep in as dominant factors in children’s literature? Does children’s literature still promote racism, sexism, and class prejudice?" Great questions. The conference also sponsors a contest for young writers.

A late update: Pooja Makhijani on Cynsations. Pooja talks about her books and her work in bringing culturally specific writings into the common discourse. And mentions two biographies she's working on. One is of Dhan Gopal Mukerji, who won what Susan Patron's calling the Oldbery, back in 1928. More at the Newbery Project. I had to smile (while gritting my teeth, that is) at the caution: "The story does take place in India, and it's filled with lamas and monks and Hindu or Buddhist prayer and meditation." Um, yes. Such jittery concerns are why we need Pooja to do what she does. Pooja's other nonfiction interest is the life of Jean Bothwell, a Methodist missionary who worked in India, and wrote over 60 fiction and nonfiction books (The Mystery Candlestick, Omen for a Princess, and others) focused on that country. Omen is a much more robust, deeply felt rendering of the story of Jahanara, daughter of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal, than a more recent version.

A question. When is Viking (or someone) going to publish a US edition of Vandana Singh's utterly delightful YoungUncle in the Himalayas? YoungUncle Comes to Town continues to gather accolades.

Hedgebrook (Women Authoring Change) will be 20 years old in 2008.

You had to not be on the planet if you missed the tragic assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Here's a biography for young readers by Libby Hughes.

Peace in the New Year is probably way too much to ask for.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Manuscripts and stories

At the Salar Jung Museum in Hyderabad, visitors crowd around Benzoni's veiled Rebecca and gather on the hour to glimpse the bird in the century-old clock when it pops out to tweet between the blacksmith's strikes on his anvil. But the museum also holds a reputed 9,000 manuscripts in Arabic, Urdu, and Persian, including a 13th century Arabic Qur'an, and Urdu poetry by Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah himself, of the Golconda dynasty, the founder of Hyderabad and builder of its famous Charminar.

On the way to the smoke-and-mirrors sound and light show at Golconda fort a guide attached himself firmly to us, refused to be shaken off, and proved to possess a depth of knowledge of the place that put us so-called educated folk to shame. When I went to school in Delhi we paid the south scant attention, so it was a treat to learn about the intrigues and successions, loves and losses of Golconda. As soon as I can get my hands on them, I plan to read Narendra Luther's books on Hyderabad.

At the Charminar, past rows and rows of bangle-sellers, an eight year old hawked cheap trinkets. He spoke to us, rapid-fire, in four languages we recognized (French, English, Spanish, Hindi) and was disappointed that we didn't know the others he could speak (Italian, Telugu, Arabic). Openmouthed, we asked how he came by his fluency. He shrugged and said in that lovely Hyderabadi Urdu with a cadence all its own, "Tourist-lok se boltha, ma." Silly question.

And finally I got to meet Katia Novet Saint-Lot who's taken classes with me off and on for three years. A real delight.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Teaching This Week, from Chennai

VC packets have begun to arrive this week which means I have to be chained to the computer for the next 5 days. No, it's fine. If I'm going to be the peripatetic writer person I want to be, writing across states and continents, perhaps even living in more than one place, I'd better get used to this. And really, once I started work, I did quit wanting to call a taxi to go somewhere, burying myself instead in viewpoint and dialogue and places in a character's journey. Still, it helps that my desktop now has these pictures: the trellis work in Humayun's tomb, Delhi, a memory of mine from childhood visits there; the Taj in marble looking as if it might float away if you untethered it; the gravestones of Company wallahs in St. Mary's Church, in the heart of the East India Company's Madras, a striking number of whom seem to have died at the age of 25; Cornwallis in marble at Fort St. George (was he really as uninspired as he looks? No wonder he lost to Washington); the rock walls at Mahabalipuram; and the goat mother and her babies by the trail. The babies pure velvet, all that newly minted life just there.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Writing with Children in Delhi

I'm visiting Delhi after nearly 20 years. It's changed beyond recognition but it's still bursting with stories, from the tombs of emperors to the remains of the Raj, to more personal family stories of houses lived in, schools attended, events and mishaps and memories.

Speaking to young readers at the India Habitat Centre and at Vasant Valley School, I found that while of course everyone knows Harry Potter (my son and I even found a Hindi edition in a book shop in Connaught Place) they were also eager to write and share their own stories.

We wrote together, and the students (mostly 2nd to 5th standards/grades) read their drafts. Many of the India Habitat Centre stories focused on the room, which was round and colorful and quirkily decorated with posters and polka-dots on one section of wall.

At VVS, we wrote about what might be hidden in this picture taken in the heart of Lutyens' Delhi. Who's behind the hedge? Where's the man going? Who's waiting for him? What if a squirrel were to shin up the lamp-post? How could you write this so your reader would care?

The only expectations worth holding about writing are those that relate to such story questions. The answers get more complex as you get older and more conscious of markets and audiences, but living with the questions is the whole point of the exercise.

Friday, November 23, 2007

From Robert's Snow to John's Shelf

My friend and SCBWI New Mexico member Katie Beatty has a son. His name's John. Just before his 16th birthday John was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in his leg. Katie writes about his journey on her web site. She says, "In the hospital, he asked me to read him Beowulf, during chemo. I wondered about his request until we were well into the story, and then realized why." The struggle against evil, the journey of a hero, the power of story sustained John through his ordeal. Today, John is a survivor of his battle with cancer, a young man getting on with the next steps of his life. Katie, in honor of her son's experience and in honor of all the children and teens fighting cancer in New Mexico, has now founded John's Shelf. The shelf is a cart, located in UNM Children's Hospital. Donations of new or very gently used books are sought for it. Those books are then given away to children undergoing treatment. New Mexico Kids ran an article on this project, and on one teacher's contribution to it.

If you live in New Mexico, if you read the Robert's Snow posts here and on other blogs, if you're planning to bid on a snowflake, if you just happened upon this post, consider donating a new children's or YA book to John's Shelf.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Robert's Snow week 5

Monday, November 12

Tuesday, November 13

Wednesday, November 14

Thursday, November 15

Friday, November 16

Saturday, November 17

Sunday, November 18

Monday, November 05, 2007

Robert's Snow: This Week's Snowflakes

As you know if you've been visiting any children's book blogs for the past few weeks, Robert's Snow is an online auction that benefits Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Over 200 children's book illustrators have created art on individual snowflake-shaped wooden templates. The snowflakes will be auctioned off, with proceeds going to cancer research. You can view all of the 2007 snowflakes here. Jules and Eisha from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast have found a way for bloggers to help with this effort, by blogging about individual illustrators and their snowflakes. The idea is to drive traffic to the Robert's Snow site so that many snowflakes will be sold, and much money raised to fight cancer. The illustrator profiles have been wonderful so far - diverse and creative and colorful. And there are lots more to go.

Here's the schedule for Week 4, which starts today (Monday November 5). As previously, this early schedule links to the participating blogs, instead of to the individual posts. You can find links to the posts themselves, and any last-minute updates, each morning at 7-Imp. Jules and Eisha have also set up a special page at 7-Imp containing a comprehensive list of links to the profiles posted so far. Also not to be missed is Kris Bordessa's post summarizing snowflake-related contests to date over at Paradise Found.

Monday, November 5

Tuesday, November 6

Wednesday, November 7

Thursday, November 8

Friday, November 9

Saturday, November 10

Sunday, November 11

Please take time out to visit all of these blogs, and read about these fabulous illustrators. And, if you're so inclined, think about bidding for a snowflake in the Robert's Snow auction. Each snowflake makes a unique gift (for yourself or for someone else), and supports an important cause.

See also the following note from Elaine Magliaro of Wild Rose Reader:

Note to Blog Readers about Blogging for a Cure: When Jules of 7-Imp put out her call in September for bloggers to interview/feature artists who had created snowflakes for Robert’s Snow 2007 at their blogs, a number of artists had not yet sent in their snowflakes to Dana-Farber. As time was of the essence to get Blogging for a Cure underway, we worked with the list of artists whose snowflakes were already in possession of Dana-Farber. Therefore, not all the participating artists will be featured. This in no way diminishes our appreciation for their contributions to this worthy cause. We hope everyone will understand that once the list of artists was emailed to bloggers and it was determined which bloggers would feature which artists at their blogs, a schedule was organized and sent out so we could get to work on Blogging for a Cure ASAP. Our aim is to raise people’s awareness about Robert’s Snow and to promote the three auctions. We hope our efforts will help to make Robert’s Snow 2007 a resounding success.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Annamouse and Willamouse Snowflake

Being a mere word-juggler, I am easily intimidated by image problems. Yesterday the Blogspot Image Imps wouldn't let me upload a higher quality image of Stephanie's snowflake from her blog. It's here now but in case it disappears, you can also go see it here.

And a correction: Victoria Jamieson's snowflake will be at AmoXcalli and Cuentecitos

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Robert's Snow: Meet Stephanie Roth, Today's Featured Artist

The snowflake of the day, Tuesday October 30.

You can bid on the original art at the Robert's Snow auction site beginning November 26. "Annamouse, Willamouse, and the Snowfall" features the mouse characters in Two Christmas Mice by Corinne Demas, illustrated by Stephanie Roth.

Booklist describes Stephanie's pencil-and-paint illustrations as creating "delightfully expressive mouse characters" that "communicate the sense of warmth in detailed scenes of cushioned, snug interiors, complete with roaring fires and delectable treats."

Stephanie Roth has illustrated dozens of books and magazines for children--among them my emergent reader published by Lee & Low, Yoga Class, to which she added an amazingly energetic, completely enchanting storyline. The first 10 people to post comments here in reply to this blog entry will be eligible to receive one of the following. In addition to your post, if you want to receive one of these gifts, you must send an e-mail to Uma with your snailmail address.

The gifts: A copy of Blockparty Today illustrated (and signed) by Stephanie Roth, along with a signed postcard of Two Christmas Mice, (a total of 3 on offer here)

Postcards of Two Christmas Mice, also signed by Stephanie (5 on offer)

Postcards featuring English and Spanish jackets of Yoga Class, illustrated by Stephanie (2 packs of 6 postcards each).

Don't forget to bid on that snowflake.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Remembering Hedgebrook

Last year at this time I was in a cottage in the woods on Whidbey Island, Washington, listening to the owl in the pines, breathing in the mist, allowing myself to experience the gift of solitude. There are so many ways I carry Hedgebrook in my heart. A picture of Cedar Cottage with my bags on the porch is on my computer desktop. It's early morning and the sky is still dark, and I'm waiting for Jacinda to give me a ride to the gas station so I can emerge from this time-warp and re-enter the world of airport shuttles and plane connections. I pull this picture up when I need breathing room. Just looking at it takes me back to a space of damp leaves and mist, hurrying by flashlight to a dinner that someone has prepared with loving hands, to conversations about books and writing and all of our lives. Hedgebrook gave me the courage to begin work on a story of overlapping geographies. Slow as I am the work is still in progress, but I know it will be completed in its own time. I don't think I have fully explored for myself what the experience, or the story, really mean to me but I find that I can enter that "inner space" when I need to, when either my writing or my life threaten to spiral away. Gloria Steinem said, "Hedgebrook isn't a retreat. It's an advance." It was for me.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Updates and Downloads

Sarah Ellis has won the Third Annual TD Canadian Children's Literature Award for Odd Man Out, a moving, funny story of a boy coming to terms with his changing family and with the truth about his father. Finalists for the TD prize included Jan Thornhill for I Found a Dead Bird: The Kids' Guide to the Cycle of Life & Death, Hadley Dyer for Johnny Kellock Died Today, Linda Bailey and illustrator Bill Slavin for Stanley's Wild Ride, and Tim Wynne-Jones for Rex Zero and the End of the World. Congratulations Sarah and Tim, Vermont College faculty colleagues both.

Writer Natasha Yim, a student of mine, is interviewed on California Readers.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Robert's Snow: Blogging for a Cure

This Blogging for a Cure page at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast has a comprehensive list of snowflake and illustrator features to be updated on a regular basis. Below you'll see the list of this week's Blogging for a Cure posts featuring artists who have created snowflakes for Robert’s Snow 2007.

Please note that not all the illustrators who contributed snowflakes to the online auction are featured in this blogging effort. When Jules of Seven Impossible put out her call in September for bloggers to interview/feature the creators of snowflakes on their blogs, a number of artists had not yet sent in their snowflakes to Dana-Farber. Look for some additional snowflakes (maybe 30 in all) on the Seven Impossible site.

This week's featured artists:

Monday, October 22

Tuesday, October 23

Wednesday, October 24

Thursday, October 25

Friday, October 26

Saturday, October 27

Sunday, October 28

Gandhi Book Published in Two Continents

On October 2, the International Day for Non-violence, Picture Gandhi, a photobiography by Sandhya Rao, was simultaneously published by Tulika Books in Chennai, India, and in Johannesburg, South Africa. This matters, of course, because Gandhi began his journey in South Africa and because the violence in the shadow of which children are forced to live ought to be an international concern. The South African release was marked by a special ceremony on Constitution Hill, in the prison where Gandhi was once held.

Monday, October 15, 2007

This Week's Featured Illustrators, Tuesday through Sunday

We writers so often feel excluded from the process by which pictures transform our texts in picture books. It's such a delight to be part of this wonderful cyber-event, and to find connections among the talented artists featured in Robert's Snow. This week, cyberhugs to Grace Lin, Judy Schachner, and Erin Eitter Kono. And of course all of this reflects the light of Grace's love and life shining on his work.

Tuesday, October 16
Wednesday, October 17
Thursday, October 18Friday, October 19
Saturday, October 20
Sunday, October 21

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Robert's Snow

Robert's Snow is an online auction that benefits the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Over 200 children's book illustrators have created art on individual snowflake-shaped wooden templates. The auction runs November through December, and is in memory of Robert Mercer who lost his fight against sarcoma in August 2007. Robert and his wife Grace Lin founded Robert's Snow: for Cancer's Cure in 2004. Since that time, the event has raised more than $200,000 for Dana-Farber.

Illustrators highlighted on October 15 will be:
Please stop by and view all the 2007 snowflakes here.

SCBWI-NM Retreat at Hummingbird Music Camp

Critique groups at the SCBWI-NM retreat at Hummingbird Music camp in beautiful Jemez, NM. Each workshop leader got to put a work in progress into the critique pot as well, something I find useful in more ways than one. Not just the whole "leveling the playing field" thing, but keeping the attention focused on the common work of bringing story to the page.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Updates and Downloads

The SCBWI-NM retreat's coming up, October 4-7, at Hummingbird Music Camp in Jemez, NM. Mountain air, and the space and time to read, write, and talk about reading and writing. A dining room with the most amazing (or terrifying!) collection of clown paintings you ever saw. Home-cooked meals on time. Walks by the river. Cell phone dead zone. No Internet access. Bliss. My fellow critique group facilitators will be Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, Betsy James, and Eleanor Schick. Betsy's fantasy novel, Listening at the Gate, is a Tiptree Honor Book.

My last manuscript workshop of the year through is currently in session. No more online classes will be scheduled until 2008. Updates will be posted on the class listings page of the web site, or you can sign up for their e-mail newsletter.

How Many Innings?

For some reason known only to the force of sheer cussedness in the universe that some people think of foolishly as "inspiration," a character in a book of mine currently on the great playing field called revision, decided to play baseball. In 1935. No, 1937. No, I'm not that old. It's when the story in the book takes place. When I started writing it, I didn't know the first thing about baseball. But she's playing, and I'm still revising, and learning, slowly and laboriously.

For some other reason I can't quite fathom, when people learn about my ignorance of the sport they say, "Ah, you must know all about cricket, then." Er-no. Yes, I know. I'm a disgrace to the countries of my birth and residence. The truth is, I was a blissfully unsporty kid and have grown into a sports-ignorant adult. This was never a problem, until this book came along. But here, for the record, is Justine Larbalestier who does know a duck from a tailender. And is the author of the Magic or Madness trilogy, all three books now available in the US.

So--two innings or nine? Take your pick, but don't expect answers from me. I'm only the writer, and in those baseball scenes, I'm in the outfield, running as hard as I can.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Why is Childhood Like a Third World Country?

A lot of people contact me wanting to learn how to write for children. (Must be the big bucks, you say?) The problem is that they have sentimental views of childhood, as a sort of warm-fuzzy place filled with magic and imagination. Add small fluffy animals who learn important life lessons and you get the picture. As a result, from time to time, I start questioning myself and my ability to get across exactly what I mean when I say I'm against those things. Against warm-fuzziness and magic? That makes me sound downright mean. So here's what I think.

Childhood in fact is a bit like a third world country, in the sense that it's mostly well-meaning people who don't live there who:
  1. give it that label
  2. find it charming and filled with innocence
  3. feel a great need to educate its denizens
  4. consider it a developmental stage, only theirs is better
  5. secretly long for a time when its inhabitants knew their place (or were seen and not heard, or both).
Perry Nodelman wrote an article on this subject some years ago that says something about this in a scholarly way. "The other: Orientalism, colonialism, and children's literature." Children's Literature Association Quarterly. 117:1, 29-35.

But my take is that we're not going to learn how to decolonize childhood until we're well and truly over colonizing countries. Which (look around you) isn't going to happen anytime soon.

In the meantime, consider discarding the warm-fluffy cloak and getting in touch with your inner child. Add a mean streak, or fangs, or a dollop of despair, a little longing. Does it feel like a punch in the gut? Much more like it.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Romina's Rangoli, and celebrations of untold story

The places where cultures intersect are always rife with possible conflict, and because of that they're also rich with story. Read Pooja Makhijani's review of Romina's Rangoli by Malathi Michelle Iyengar, illustrated by Jennifer Wanardi, on Chicken Spaghetti. Rangoli meets papel picado in this picture book about a child from a bicultural family. From Shen's Books. Pooja's review also touches on little-known histories of the earliest South Asians to arrive in North America.

It seems as if we're finally seeing an awakening of interest in such untold stories. Japanese American stories from five Interior Western states will be showcased next year in an inspiring conference, "Whose America? Who's American? Diversity, Civil Liberties, and Social Justice."

Combining the commemoration of loss with the celebration of survival, and with the interrogation of larger principles of redress and justice are essential, if we're to learn anything from history. And the stories we tell in children's books reveal sharply the extent to which we're willing to shed the gloss of conventional history and tell kids the truth we owe them.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

My students

Two of my students report exciting news.

Annette Gulati, who took my picture book class, is this year's winner of the SCBWI Barbara Karlin grant for picture book writers.

Anjali Raghbeer reports the publication of The Quest for Clues (Frog Books, India) a middle grade time-travel adventure story.

Congratulations to both of you!

Finally, in her metafictional account of names and naming, Katia Novet St. Lot comments on a character's given (taken?) name, or rather the character does.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Shen's Blog on crossing cultural borders

Shen's Blog is running a six-week series, Crossing Cultural Borders, that explores the world of multicultural children's literature. It's an interesting and intelligent exploration. It calls on us to rethink the little box, beautiful and lacquered as it might be, in which multiculti books are so often placed and then forgotten. Here you will find reflections on portal fantasies, varying concepts of home, the notion that having more than one home is normal. You'll find a re-landscaping of the hero's journey (about time, I say!), American boys abroad, discovering roots, and much much more. Thank you, Emily Jiang.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Updates and Downloads

Mitali Perkins has been busier than a First Daughter on the campaign trail. First there was the trailer. Then the character blog. Now First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover is out, a fun summer read that touches on a few serious issues and invites young readers into the dog-eat-dog world of political ambition.

Anjali Banerjee's Looking for Bapu morphed into Bringing Back Grandfather in this edition from Penguin India.

And finally, unrelated to anything currently in print for young people, but I can just feel the stories that lie hidden in this history! Courtesy of Sepia Mutiny, here's an amazing BBC documentary on the history of indentured labo(u)r: Coolies--How Britain Reinvented Slavery.

Monday, June 04, 2007

The Door

Just to jog my memory, this image of a door in my parents' house in Chennai. Anyone who wants to treat it as a writing prompt is welcome.

The Tiger's a blogger now!

Everyone's favorite Asian/Pacific Rim children's books web site has just launched a blog. Check out the first posts of the PaperTigers blog.

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Common Crow

The logo of Tulika Books is the ubiquitous Indian crow. It's loud. It lives in cities and villages alike. As the Tulika web site puts it, the crow is a "busy, intelligent bird, with a great sense of family — and an unmissable part of the sights and sounds of India." It's no peacock, and therein lies a message.

Tulika is a small Indian publishing house whose mission is to give children images of India that "show how all parts of this world come together to make it a diverse and dynamic whole, a changing yet changeless continuum." Here managing editor Radhika Menon reflects on Questioning Cultural Stereotypes Through Children's Books.

So we think we're crossing borders in the world of multiculti children's literature, but are we? In thinking about the stories we write, and for whom, perhaps Radhika's right, and it's time to change the metaphor. Here's the Tulika Bookshelf, a list that has achieved significant staying power since the house began in 1996. Maybe the crow offers a lesson in persistence.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Updates and Downloads

Coram Boy, the musical based on Jamila Gavin's Whitbread-winning YA novel, opened last month on Broadway, and garnered 6 Tony nominations. Wish I'd been there, Jamila!

Kimberley Griffiths Little, Anjali Banerjee, and Katia Novet Saint-Lot have launched new blogs. Katia's a student of mine whose picture book about a boy, a book, and the opening of worlds, was recently acquired by Tilbury House. I'm waiting anxiously, in the manner of an auntie, for the final title, and the last word on the protagonist's name. I love it when students' books finds homes.

Great new reviews and interviews for Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month at PaperTigers.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Pooja's Book, Mama's Saris

Luscious and rich and drenched in memory, Pooja Makhijani's gorgeous picture book, Mama's Saris, arrived in my mailbox in the middle of a hectic week. I couldn't wait to get my hands on it, and now I can't put it down. Just in time for Mother's Day, try this bonding experience in silk and cotton, zari and pleat and fold. Pooja captures perfectly that childhood longing to grow up, dress up, make believe. A glossary for those who need it, an author's note for the grownups. But young girls will go for the luminous color and the deftly wrapped text, and moms who don't have saris on hand might need to extend their dress-up wardrobes. The art by Elena Gomez shines. Congratulations, Pooja and Elena!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Updates and Downloads

Two new novels to look for:
Mitali Perkins announces the June release of her forthcoming teen novel, First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover, from Dutton. About a Pakistani-American girl whose dad is a Presidential wannabe.

At the end of the nineteenth century, a caravan of traders sets off from the high hills of Kumaon, India, for Tibet. When young Debu's father doesn't return, he travels in search him. That's the premise of Deepa Agarwal's new middle-grade novel from Penguin India, Caravan to Tibet.

I'll be looking for both of these.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

A Conversation with Michelle Superle

Michelle Superle, writer, teacher, and post-graduate scholar in children's literature, is currently facilitating a virtual conversation among four writers of Indian origin: Anjali Banerjee, author of Maya Running, and Looking for Bapu, Devika Rangachari, author of Growing Up, Company for Manisha, and other titles from Children's Book Trust, Santhini Govindan, who was the first writer from India to be invited to the Highlights Chatauqua conference, and me.

Two of us in India, two of us in the United States and Michelle in England, we're still finding connections. Once we get going, Michelle might have to move into the role of Whip-cracker and Cat-herder!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Beyond Food, Flowers, and Festivals

In response to requests for more specifics, here's a little more about my presentation at NMLA/MPLA: the rationale for it, and a brief overview.

I started with Rudine Sims Bishop's categories of multicultural books (from Mingshui Cai's Multicultural Literature for Children and Young Adults: Reflections on Critical Issues):
  1. culturally specific books that illuminate the experience of growing up in a particular non-white cultural group;
  2. generically American books that feature members of so-called minority groups but don’t do much to define those groups culturally, or the cultural content is homogenized;
  3. culturally neutral books that feature people of color but are fundamentally about something else.
But those categories are changing and growing as more writers of color enter the market. Meanwhile even though some terrific scholarship exists I also find that on the ground, schools and libraries often end up making buying decisions based not on the qualities of books or where they fit in any kind of analytical assessment, but instead on how the demographics are shifting in their communities. So I hear a lot of "your books are lovely but I don't have any South Asians in my area. I have (xyz) people." This kind of nose-counting exercise really takes us away from the conversation of books. The way I see it any of us writers of color can write today because Virginia Hamilton trod this ground before us. That's not to conflate us all into a single category but to make the point that all kinds of children ought to be reading all kinds of books.

For years I've been talking about our need to get "beyond food, flowers and festivals" (the tokens by which multicultural books have long been represented on shelves). Then I discovered that Mingshui Cai writes in similar vein about 4F's (food, fashion, festivals, and folklore). Given the recent success of American Born Chinese and some of Joseph Bruchac's new mystery titles, I'd argue that folklore might no longer belong in that scheme. I think it's making a comeback, but in a new way.

The other point I made in the talk is that if there's no humor in a culturally grounded book we should wonder how authentic it is. Writers who capture the essence of a culture also always seem to capture laughter in some form, even (or maybe especially) when the subject is dark or difficult.

I didn't include books written about cultural groups by writers from outside those groups (so-called "cultural courier" books). Not because I want to make a blanket statement about them, but because that's another conversation altogether.

I did talk about ways to assess multicultural books, by examining aspects of craft and posing lots of questions: What's the story? Who are the characters and what do they want? Is the setting now or long ago? If long ago whose version of that time? Does the story privilege one set of values over another? Are assumptions made about whose values are better, the reader's presumed values or those of the character? Who's telling the story and why? I mentioned the work of Sandra Williams who studied patterns in the development of national children's literatures of Singapore and Nepal. I heard her speak in Singapore a couple of years ago and she raised some really interesting questions about children's literature as an expression of identity.

There was lots more along those lines. We looked at several titles as examples. I'd passed out books randomly to people in the audience and I had them read when we got to considering each title, so people could leave with a lot of different writers' (and readers') voices in their heads.

We ran out of time and I inadvertently ended before a possible Q & A by mentioning book giveaways, at which point all those who had green stickies on their chairs got up to claim their books and that was that. (Lesson: same deal as in elementary school when you don't give out the art supplies until you've reached the point of planned creative chaos!) But several people (we had maybe 70-80 attending the session) came up afterwards to tell their own reading, writing, teaching, learning stories. So I know this was an important conversation because people seemed to want to hang around and talk.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Updates and Downloads

Bringing Asha Home was selected as one of Bank Street College's Best Children's Books of the Year.

The "Indian to Indian" talk really got me wondering if maybe it's time to rethink and reframe the discussion about multicultural books. No one writing for the adult literary market has to compete with Charles Dickens any more, but being that children's books hang around forever, I sometimes feel I'm still trying to compete with–well, Jungle Book. And so many schools and libraries still seem to espouse the idea of selecting books based mostly on the community's demographics. So this week my talk at the joint conference of the New Mexico/Mountains and Plains Library Associations in Albuquerque was titled Beyond Food, Flowers, and Festivals: Evaluating Culturally Specific Books. It featured a number of titles, including Vaunda Micheaux Nelson's Almost to Freedom, Cynthia Leitich Smith's Tantalize (some cultures are guaranteed to be new and surprising to all of us!), Janet Wong's Minn and Jake, Lulu Delacre's Rafi and Rosi, my Naming Maya and The Closet Ghosts, and others. Some you'd think of as "multicultural" books, and others you wouldn't. Download the handout here (pdf file)

Friday, March 09, 2007

Updates and Downloads

Bringing Asha Home is on the CCBC Choices 2007 list.

Coming up, this evening in fact, is the National Writing Project Rural Sites Network conference in Albuquerque NM. I'll be speaking at the opening dinner along with Marguerite Houle (Vermont College grad, MFA/Writing for Children and Young Adults, Summer 06). Our session is titled "Indian to Indian: How Humor Dances Across Borders and Speaks the Truth."
Download our handouts here (pdf format):
Marguerite's bibliography
Uma's bibliography

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Blue Rose Girls: POETRY FRIDAY: Yoga Poems

Look for Janet Wong's wonderful book of yoga poems, Twist, illustrated by Julie Paschkis. Author-illustrator interviews on the Blue Rose Girls: POETRY FRIDAY blog

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Word

No doubt about it. The Word of the Month is "scrotum" (page 1, The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron). Because of The Word, this year's Newbery winner is being challenged, exclaimed over, fussed about from coast to coast. The New York Times managed to give the issue space. Imagine if the Newbery award itself got such attention on an annual basis!

A British medical blog expresses puzzlement at American morality.

And then again is some of the objection deriving from young Lucky's Darwinian stance? Alternet poses some interesting questions.

The NYT article states, "Authors of children’s books sometimes sneak in a single touchy word or paragraph, leaving librarians to choose whether to ban an entire book over one offending phrase." Really? No one told me! In a decade of writing for the children's market I've never once "sneaked" in anything "touchy," although I've had plenty of conversations about which words belonged in a book and why. Clearly I've missed some important wordcrafter's boat.

Read what YA author Alex Flinn has to say in her letter to the Times. Note that the NYT site requires a login.

In all this commotion, is anyone talking about the book? It has a plucky protagonist and a quirky setting. It took Susan Patron ten years to write! Isn't that the conversation we could be having? Journey Woman thinks so.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Updates and Downloads

Cynsations and Spookycyn are now available again at Blogger at:

A mirror blog to Cynsations is now available on LiveJournal at:

Other news:
New nonfiction on the Olive Ridley Sea Turtle from Tulika Books. Is the earth in enough trouble that it's time to rethink our views on didacticism in children's books?

On Papertigers, Rachna Gilmore writes about diversity in Canadian literature for children

Tara Publishing is turning practice runs of their beautiful screenprinted book jackets into one-of-a-kind writers' journals.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

If you're looking for Cyn's blog

She's asked me to pass the word on that, due to technical problems, in the (hopefully) short term she'll be blogging at GregLSBlog:

Look for Cyn's new YA novel, Tantalize, gothic humor meets Alternative Austin.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Updates and Downloads

Pooja Makhijani's guest column about context and setting on Chicken Spaghetti.

Discussion of American Born Chinese on Shen's Blog. I loved ABC. It got me thinking about all kinds of mental links between mythology and fiction and reality.

Review of an amazing book that ought to have generated way more buzz than it did: The Silver Donkey by Australian writer Sonya Hartnett. French sisters find a soldier in the woods during World War I. He has a little silver donkey and in gratitude for their help he tells them stories about donkeys. The second of these embedded tale is from India, which drew me to the book in the first place but the structure and the voice kept me reading. Simply beautiful.

Friday, January 26, 2007

The Dust Bunny School of Creativity

David Gifaldi gets credit for the literary exposition of this concept (and no, you won't find it on his web site–yet) but here's my take. Stories arrive in undifferentiated masses in my mind, sort of the way that dust bunnies arrive under bookcases when I haven't been paying attention. When the stories show up, dust bunny-like, I make a truce with them. You leave me alone, I say, and I won't launch an anti-dust bunny campaign. Some die out at that stage. Others grow, however, and pretty soon a few reach dangerous proportions. This despite my policy of careful negligence.

With me so far?

At this point I need to start paying attention to the ones that are starting to intrude into the fragile balance of my writing world. I can't attend to every single one that shows up. Most of them are just dumb dust bunnies and they'll go away to hide under lesser minds if I just ignore them. I only write out the stories that bother me enough to force my hand.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Still more 2007 books

More books out or due out this year by authors and illustrators in my real and virtual worlds:

Dori Chaconas, Coriander, the Contrary Hen, Carolrhoda; Cork and Fuzz: Good Sports, Viking; Virginnie's Hat, Candlewick; Street Horses, Peachtree
Coleen Paratore, The Cupid Chronicles, Simon & Schuster; Mack McGinn's Big Win, Simon & Schuster
Joan Sandin, At Home in a New Land, HarperCollins
Leda Schubert, Donna and the Robbers, Vermont Folklife Center
Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, Reaching for Sun, Bloomsbury

Monday, January 01, 2007

Just One More Book!!

This wonderful audio-resource of three podcasts a week about children's books is brought to us by Andrea and Mark Blevis, who go every week to their favorite coffee shop, and talk about books they and their daughter love. The podcasts include interviews, comments from young readers, themed discussions, and much, much more. Just One More Book is a treasure trove, an audio archive of evolving conversations about the work and delight of creating and sharing books for children. Past interviews include Jack Prelutsky, Audrey Wood, Dayal Kaur Khalsa, Helen Oxenbury, Sheree Fitch, and many, many other great voices.

My interview with Mark, up this morning (to my surprise. What? Me? Kicking off the year?) focuses on storytelling, writing for children, and the Peace Page on my web site, my own little effort to cope with the state of our world and the never-ending conflicts that are beginning to feel like the addictions of those in power.