Saturday, December 27, 2008

Mahler for the Children of AIDS

On Monday, Jan. 12, 2009, Singapore-born South Asian-American conductor George Mathew is organizing his charity concert, "Mahler for the Children of AIDS," at Carnegie Hall. The concert will raise funds and public awareness for pediatric AIDS and the Prevention-of-Mother-To-Child Transmission (PMTCT) of HIV worldwide but especially in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. SAJA BlogTalkRadio features an interview with Mathew, in which he discusses the concert, the world of Western classical music, his efforts to raise interest in the form in the US and in India, and what it's like to be an Indian-American at the highest levels of this kind of music. Mathew says some really interesting things about creative process, the creation of social narrative, and the implications for a conflict-ridden world.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Updates and Downloads

UK writer Suniti Namjoshi sells animation rights to her Aditi Adventures. Maya Entertainment Ltd., a leading animation studio in India, will bring the series to life on screen for an international audience.

Valentina Acava Mmaka interviews Rukhsana Khan on Kabiliana.

1980's Pakistan and England intersect--via Bruce Springsteen--in this memoir by Sarfraz Manzoor. Could work as a YA crossover title.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Plotting Along

Plot coach Martha Alderson has declared December to be National Plot Writing Month. And I am taking Dennis Foley's plotting class right now through Writers on the Net.

Dennis makes you outline. Yes, outline. And you live to tell the tale. He also raises questions and when you try to slide past them, following the many lovely distractions that novel-writing always throws up for the easily distracted writer, he raises them again. What does your protagonist want? Who stands in the way? What's the slice of your protagonist's life that this story covers? Why begin there? What's the event that launches the story? As I struggled to make my character struggle, I realized something. I was holding tight onto a story core that was, despite my best efforts to cloud it, getting clearer and clearer. I was playing out in my head the pre-writing that I would otherwise have done on the page–in fact, over dozens if not hundreds of pages. When I got distracted by subplots that kept raising their heads, the next week's round of posts and questions pointed me back, so I stayed focused on the through-line, inch by inch.

I must confess there were days I gnashed my teeth at facing that outline yet again. But now that I'm working my way through the last few scenes (sometimes backwards from the end, sometimes filling in gaps) I can see how much more I know about the story now. Could I write every novel this way? I don't know. I do believe that with every book I learn to write all over again, and that every book needs its own process. But for now, this class has made me think about this novel in greater depth than I was able to do before now. Nothing like having a knowledgeable teacher, someone who's not emotionally attached to the work, hold your feet to the fire.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Mumbai's Street Children

Terrorist attacks have thrust into the news the city that is increasingly known by its official name, Mumbai, but that some expats and residents still stubbornly call Bombay. There's lots more on that horrific news on a dedicated Wiki page and on the BBC web site and in live coverage streamed from CNN-IBN and NDTV. Enough words flying around.

There is another Mumbai story that surfaces from time to time and then goes away–the story of the city's street children. Here from 2005 is an account of a then 15-year old, Rukshana, from a feature in the New Internationalist.

's life is full of movement. She zips through Mumbai's suburbs working wherever she can. At 15, she is her 11-year-old sister Deepa's sole carer. When she first agreed to talk with us, Deepa had gone missing, leaving Rukshana frantic: something that her story only hints at. For as you will read, Rukshana has had to deal with greater challenges."

An estimated 250,000 children live on the streets of Mumbai. Here is Julian Crandall Hollick's 2002 multi-part series broadcast on NPR, Sadak Chaap. And here is a web site created and maintained by former street children. Several street children lost their lives in the 2006 blasts in Mumbai. This 2008 attack was aimed at the rich and powerful, and it's questionable whether anyone will even ask how many children may have died in it.

Finally, here is Voice, a non-profit group working for the welfare of street children. The mission of Voice is "helping children write their future."

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Amadi's Snowman: Katia's Global Virtual Tour, day 28

Katia Novet Saint-Lot is putting a new spin on the book tour, using her blog, Scribbly Katia to make an incredible array of connections, all revolving around her picture book, Amadi's Snowman. Katia writes, "One of the central themes of this book tour was to create avenues for children from different parts of the world to think and talk about reading, and books." The blog tour even attracted attention from Publishers Weekly.

And today, Katia's virtual book tour drops in here for an interview with–no, not Katia, but Amadi himself.

[U] Hi Amadi. Congratulations on your book and on the book your story's in. I see you and Mama Katia have been talking to a lot of people. I hope you don't mind one more set of questions. Can you tell readers a little bit about the very first draft in which you appeared? How long ago was that? And what did it look like? Anything else you want to tell readers about it?
[A] Hello Auntie Uma, and thank you for taking part in the blog tour and for being such a good teacher and friend to Mama Katia. She thinks the world of you, you know. Now, the very first draft. It was about six years ago, so I was just a child. I’m a real man, now. In the first draft, I found the book with the snowman and the boy all bundled up in clothes in the same place, under the market book stall. It was really cosy and quiet under that book stall, and I sat and picked up the book and stared at the cover, wondering about that boy and that strange animal with a carrot for a nose, and then, the boy in the book spoke to me. He gave me quite a fright. I jumped and I looked around, because I couldn’t believe it. His name was Thomas. We had a whole dialogue and we even challenged each other, too: I didn’t know about snow, but Thomas didn’t know about the harmattan, which made us equal, in a way. Also, in the very, very first draft, Ifeanyi (that was my first name, as you know) didn’t get the book from Mrs. Chikodili. Mama Katia had already had that idea, but she didn’t dare use it. This was her very first completed story, and she says that she still had much to learn about stories, and about letting them and the characters take the author where they want/need to go. She’s looking over my shoulder right now, and just said to add that she’s still learning.

[U] How did that draft change? How many revisions did Mama Katia do? How did you change through those revisions?
[A] Mama Katia received a letter from an editor who really liked the story, but said to take out the fantasy element and ground the story in reality. So, Thomas was removed, and Chima entered. There were about 9 big revisions, but I checked the computer and there are numbers up to 25 in the Ifeanyi file. As for the way I changed, it’s interesting, because I can see, now, that the changes were like a mirror to my thoughts. Most of the story was very much in place early on, but it had to express all my feelings, and the progression (from the beginning when I will not hear about learning how to read, until I finally accept and understand that I’ve changed my mind) in little scenes that made sense and allowed the story to flow like a river. It had to feel true and leave the reader feeling happy, too.

[U] Is your fiction-world mama happy with your book?
[A] Well, my mom is a mom. She was really happy and proud that my story was going to be made into a book. She did have some issues about the way she looks in the pictures, and some other things. She’s a woman, you know? Always fussing about their looks, and little details that nobody else notices. But overall, yes, she’s happy, especially when she sees how well the book is received. She’s a true literacy advocate, my mother - even though she doesn’t even know these words.

[U] What's happened in your life since the end of Amadi's Snowman?
[A] I’ve learned how to read, and look at me, now, I can type on the computer and answer your questions. I help young boys in my village to learn how to read, and I scold them if I see them hanging out at the market instead of being at school. I am also teaching my mother how to read. At first, she said she was too old, but I kept insisting until she said yes, and now she is really catching up. She is strong and really smart, my mother.

[U] If you could tell writers one thing about putting a picture book kid character together, what would that be?
[A] Try and make your author self as little as a speck of dirt, get inside the mind of your character, and listen very carefully: what is he or she saying? What is he or she feeling?

[U] Thanks, Amadi. Good luck and happy reading.
[A] Thank YOU, Auntie Uma.

And thanks to Katia for letting me come along on this interesting journey.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Eth-Noh-Tec in Chennai

My extraordinary storyteller friends Robert Kikuchi-Yngojo and Nancy Wang, who together make up the fabulous Eth-Noh-Tec are leading a tour group through Tamilnadu.

Yesterday's fare included a workshop on the traditional devotional storytelling form known as Harikatha and led by Dr. Premeela Gurumurthy who can trade chapplakattai (castanets without a hinge) for marker without missing a beat. Dr. Gurumurthy is head of the Music Department at Madras University. She offers a great depth of knowledge about a range of interrelated story forms and their fascinating historical origins. A brief glimpse into an ocean of story.

Today the group visited my favorite Chennai publisher of children's books, Tulika Books. As did I. Congratulations, Sandhya Rao on two new books launching today, Crocodile Tears and Dosa.

Crocodile Tears grew out of a collaborative workshop held in Goa in which Swedish and Indian children's writers and illustrators worked together on creating books that belonged to no one culture but spoke to children everywhere. Sandhya is seen here with co-author Jonathan Lindstrom and illustrator Taufiq Riaz--well, sort of.

Friday, November 07, 2008

"Mubarack Obama!"

I didn't make that up. "Mubarack Obama!" was a front page photo caption in the Times of India the day the US election results hit the headlines. I love bilingual puns and this one hits the spot.

Kids who wrote Barack Flat Stanley letters apparently got replies.

There will be young children in the White House again. What will that mean for writers of children's books? Surely in an Obama administration, poets will not be banned from readings on account of their political views. Campaign rhetoric aside, what will really happen to those wars already committed to being waged? Still it feels astonishing that there will be, at long last, someone literate in the Oval Office, someone who can write, and who understands that nuance is not a dirty word.

Speaking of nuance, on the plane to India I read The End of Empires: African Americans and India by Gerald Horne. Horne explores the untold history of the relationship between African Americans and Indians in the period leading up to Indian independence in 1947. I've never read this story told in quite this way before. Sure we all know that King derived his views from Gandhi but this book goes deeper. I had no idea of the extent of those connections from W.E.B. Dubois and Lala Lajpat Rai to the Ahmadiyya movement, to John and later Alice Coltrane and the Vedanta Society. I'll be poring over the footnotes and the bibliography in this book for a long time to come.

Looking back, it seemed a fitting prelude to the election results.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Kathi Appelt's Farmington NM visit

Kathi and me at Farmington Public Library after her talk and signing. Kathi enthralled kids at Ladera del Norte Elementary this morning.

Our kitten, Frodo, checks out The Underneath.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Updates and Downloads

Kathi Appelt is coming to town, speaking at the Farmington Public Library, meeting kids, signing books. Few people from my writing world ever make it to the wilds of northwest New Mexico, so this will be a thrill.

Celebrate the Cynsations blog's 10th anniversary. Has it been 10 years already? Congratulations, Cyn, for building this amazing resource for all of us who care about literature for children and young adults.

It's ALA's Banned Books Week. See this video on censorship.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Whose America? Who's American?

I am privileged to have spoken today at a remarkable conference organized by the Enduring Communities project of the Japanese American National Museum. I was on a panel with Cynthia Kadohata, moderated by Naomi Hirahara--gifted writers both.

When I was first invited to this conference I thought there must be some mistake. What could I possibly have to say that would be of interest to a gathering of people with a specific historical background of which I had no part? But all day, between my sessions, I've listened to an array of speakers examine the Japanese American internship experience, the redress movement culminating in the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, and the larger meaning of these to America and to the world,

I'm deeply touched by the incredible inclusiveness of this program. When I spoke on my panel and later read with Cynthia, I became aware that my books, about a very different cultural experience, were still seen by the audience as relevant to a larger story. This afternoon's plenary session included a presentation by Dr. Anan Ameri, of the Arab American National Museum. And then there was the presentation by Adam Schrager, author of a biography of former Colorado Gov. Ralph Carr who sacrificed his political career by standing up for the rights of Japanese Americans. And much more. There's a generosity of spirit here that inspires, enlightens, and empowers. I'm very grateful.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Updates and Downloads

My student Nandini Bajpai sends this lovely picture of her daughter's Josefina doll, dressed in salwar kameez.

Looking for Bapu by Anjali Banerjee, Savitri by Aaron Shepard, and my book, The Broken Tusk, are all featured on The Horn Book's list of recommended titles on Hinduism and Buddhism.

Shenaaz Nanji's richly textured YA novel, Child of Dandelions tells the story of a family of Indian origin exiled from Uganda in 1972.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Updates and Downloads

Amadi's Snowman, by Katia Novet Saint-Lot, illustrated by Dimitrea Tokunbo, has just been released by Tilbury House. What a delight to see this book, that I first encountered in draft form, cut and pasted into e-mails. What a delight to see it grow in successive revisions and to hold it now in my hands. A gift indeed.

If you haven't read Kathi Appelt's The Underneath drop whatever else you're doing, and go read it now. Well, okay, take a minute first to watch the book trailer but don't stop there.

This is a book that is its own universe and it drew me in completely. I was utterly captivated. It's not an easy read, but it touches the soul in ways that few books do. I was head over heels in love with some of the characters, and truly terrified of others. I was in mourning, and then I found myself forgetting to breathe. Illustrated by David Small who can render a small kitten and an old hound better than just about any artist I can think of.

Finally, Many Windows, by Rukhsana Khan, Elisa Carbone and me, illustrated by Patty Gallinger, will be out later this summer. It was a collaborative exercise that we worked on one winter, sending stories back and forth. As it grew it became more than we'd envisioned at first. Interrelated stories about six kids, five faiths, and the building of community.

Sunday, May 11, 2008


Next week, I'll be in Syracuse, NY, speaking to participants in the 2008 E*Lit project. Requests and permissions have been flying back and forth from me and my publishers to students and their teachers who have used my work in wikis, video clips, dramatic presentations, and blogs. This blog, by fourth graders at Bellevue and McKinley Brighton Elementary school, is one of the many ways that young readers, writers, visual and performing artists have connected technology and reading. An unexpected treat for me was seeing children dancing to a song that I know from my own childhood growing up in a Tamil-speaking family in India.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Apples and Mangoes: Marc Aronson's nonfiction title, The Real Revolution

I'm delighted to use this post to launch a new recurring topic in this blog: Apples and Mangoes. In it we'll look at books for children and young adults about South Asia or the South Asian diaspora. We'll pick books that bring together elements most people don't think of as belonging together, or books that push the boundaries of the existing literature. We'll also discuss topics of interest related to the South Asian presence in literature for young readers. Some of the books, although not all, will be by writers of South Asian origin. They will include fiction and nonfiction, and titles across the age range, picture books through YA. No question--apples and mangoes make a terrific fruit chaat!

For now, I'd like to start the Apples and Mangoes conversation by writing about a stunning nonfiction book, The Real Revolution by Marc Aronson. Here's Cynthia Leitich Smith's interview with Marc Aronson.

The third book in a trilogy, The Real Revolution is an account of the American Revolution for young readers, but it begins not with Washington as we might expect, but with Robert Clive. Aronson writes with vision and foresight and yet always manages to keep in mind the young reader. He trusts his readers, and it shows. The book fills in the blanks so often left gaping in traditional histories. For example, Aronson juxtaposes Tanaghrisson’s gamble in Ohio with Siraj-ud-daula and the Black Hole of Calcutta, and we start to see that patterns of colonization, and of the responses of the colonized, can and should be compared across continents. Daniel Boone’s pressing of the Proclamation Line is another example, placed side by side with Clive’s declaration, “We must indeed become Nabobs ourselves.” And the economics of it--why don't we teach that to children? Or to more adults, for that matter. Aronson lays bare the story of lines of credit, extending from Scottish tobacco merchants to Virginians, all resting on the inflow of loot from India to England that drove up the stock of the East India Company. Even the illustration captions offer unexpected insights and fascinating slants on the material presented. Here is nonfiction with a voice, and that voice speaks directly to a global view of history that we see all too rarely. This is a jewel of a book, worth reading and rereading.

The other two books in Aronson's nonfiction trilogy are Sir Walter Ralegh and the Quest for El Dorado and John Winthrop, Oliver Cromwell and The Land of Promise.

Guest bloggers for future Apples and Mangoes posts will include:

Anjali Banerjee, author of Maya Running and Looking for Bapu (both from Wendy Lamb Books/Random House) and a forthcoming middle grade novel.
Pooja Makhijani, author of Mama's Saris (Little, Brown, 2007; Random House India, forthcoming). Full-time, she works at Sesame Workshop where she oversees educational content for several international co-productions.
Mitali Perkins, of Mitali’s Fire Escape, author of Rickshaw Girl and Monsoon Summer.

Watch for posts by these writers and others.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Sunday, April 13, 2008

YA Short Stories

Short stories would seem to be an ideal form for the teenaged reader and I don't think that has anything to do with their supposed shorter attention-span either. The form itself is just so dense and packed and delivers the punch of great writing in a smaller package--what's not to love? Cynthia Leitich Smith interviews Donald Gallo on short stories including Gallo's newest anthology.

Support Teen Lit Day April 17

Teen patients in pediatric hospitals across the United States and Canada will receive 10,000 young adult novels, audiobooks, and graphic novels Thursday as readergirlz and the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) celebrate the second annual Support Teen Lit Day on April 17.

This unprecedented teen literacy program, coined “Operation TBD” (short for Teen Book Drop), will put free books—altogether valued at more than $175,000—donated by 20 book publishers into the hands of many of the teens most in need of solace, entertainment and a sense of personal accomplishment. After all, long-term hospital stays can be difficult on many levels—for teenagers and their families. More on the readergirlz web page: readergirlz is the foremost online book community for teen girls, led by YA authors Dia Calhoun (Avielle of Rhia), Lorie Ann Grover (On Pointe), Justina Chen Headley (Girl Overboard), and Mitali Perkins (First Daughter: White House Rules).

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Paula Yoo on Book Reviews

I've reviewed books for CLCD for years now. I sweat over these reviews. I check facts, read and reread, try to make I'm not responding from some temporary impulse, but giving the book a fair assessment. Only three times have I ever heard from authors about my reviews. One was a complaint. The other two were notes of thanks. Two of the three reviews were mixed, containing compliments but also raising a critical point or two. One of the thank-you notes came from Paula Yoo. We traded e-mail messages about writing and reviews, and here's the conversation.

UK: Writers either exult over reviews, if they're good, or curse them if they're not. Some writers never even read the reviews of their books--it's just too traumatic an experience. But you have another way of looking at reviews, as part of a larger conversation of books. Talk about that.
PY: I always read my reviews, good or bad! Of course, I'm human, so positive reviews make me smile while critical reviews made me sad. But I believe critical reviews are vital to the writing process - how can you become a better writer if you don't analyze a reader's criticism of your work? It is an honor and privilege to have your writing published, so I believe it is my duty and responsibility as a writer to read and analyze all criticism of my work in order to grow as a creative artist. If I think a reviewer brings up an important critical point, I examine my work and ask myself - "How could I have avoided this criticism in the first place?" If I disagree with a reviewer's review, I must come up with a solid defense with concrete examples to support my original stand on why I chose to write the way I did. I look at book reviewers as part of a necessary dialogue between writer and reader - as long as a review is written fairly and with specific examples to support the reviewer's opinion, I take great pride in my words having such a strong effect on someone.

UK: Tell me how you got to thinking this way.
PY: I am also a musician and former journalist. Both worlds helped me develop a "thick skin" when it came to negative criticism and learning not to take it personally. As a violinist, I have done numerous auditions for concerto competitions and orchestra seatings and music gigs. I also attended dozens of master classes in college where a music professor would criticize everyone's performances in a workshop setting. You get rejected a lot as a musician - I learned to use these rejections to figure out what I did wrong at an audition so I wouldn't make the same mistakes again in the future. I was also a newspaper and magazine journalist for ten years - it's a brutal industry where editors don't have time to coddle you. If they hate your story, they won't mince words. There's no time to waste because of all the pressing deadlines. I quickly learned never to take these criticisms personally - in the end, all that mattered was THE STORY. Not your ego. Now that I'm lucky enough to be working full time as a novelist and TV writer, I've taken those lessons to heart.

UK: How can writers develop their ability to be critical readers, and why is this important?
PY: I think it's hard for writers to separate their personal selves and personal lives from their writing, because often, writers write what they know best - themselves. My debut novel GOOD ENOUGH is clearly very autobiographical - so when I read any negative criticism about the main character, I admit at first I took offense because the main character was ME! (I will add that fortunately I've been lucky and mostly gotten very lovely reviews!) But in the long run, I was able to separate my personal self from the reviews because... it IS a novel. It is NOT a memoir. I took real events in my life and transcended them, looking beyond the facts for an emotional journey and dramatic arc that turned a funny personal real-life anecdote into a much deeper and more symbolic fictional story. So once I realized that, it was easy to become a critical reader of my own fiction writing because I never asked myself, "What would I do here?" but rather, "What would my character do here? Is that consistent with the character's personality traits? What does my character want? What am I trying to say about life via my fictional characters based on my real life?" And so on. So I would say all writers should learn how to let go and treat their characters as FICTIONAL CHARACTERS who represent a greater theme about life that the writer feels passionately about. Once you can separate your personal self from the narrative fiction, it's much easier to become a critical reader. It's a tough balancing act but worth it because, in the end, you grow not only as a writer but as a human being... being a strong critical reader helps you focus on what YOU feel passionately about and what YOU want to write about next!

UK: You've been a reviewer, so you know that role. And you're sympathetic towards Anton Ego (Peter O'Toole), the critic who delivers the monologue at the end of Ratatouille. You don't think that was just disingenuous? Talk about how having worn the reviewer's cloak (and dagger?) shapes your thinking as a writer.
UK: I was an English major in college, so when I wrote book reviews during my journalism days, I was quite careful in respecting the hard work that the author did in writing his/her book. I love to read "for fun," but as a book reviewer, I had to judge a book not only on its writing but also on its mission. Did the author accomplish his/her mission with the book? Did they successfully explore the themes set out in the book with the plot, character arcs, and so forth? My biggest concern as a book reviewer was not to be woken up from what I call the "fictional dream." I love it when the real world around me disappears and the book becomes my only world. But as a reviewer, that is not enough to earn a positive book review. I then also read for language - was the voice original and compelling? Did the story make sense? Were there interesting twists and turns that surprised me? Did I feel the characters "earned" their endings? I despise lazy writing (cliches, not thinking outside the box, etc.) because I feel that insults the reader who is spending time and money to read the book. So I expect a writer to treat me with the same respect I treat his/her book with my reading! :)

As for the famous monologue at the end of the movie RATATOUILLE, what I loved specifically about it was the line, "But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new." That is what book reviewers hunger for - a new voice, a new vision, a new way of looking at life. I always think about that when I write, often wondering, is what I'm writing original? Why should I write this story? Why should anyone care about my story? That inspires me and keeps me from lazy writing! I also liked the line, "Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere." To me, that meant that not everyone can be a great writer, but that's okay - they can be great readers. For we need both - one can't survive without the other. Too often, I have heard writing workshops and your Average Joe claim that everyone has a story to tell. That may be true, but not everyone can write that story well! The writer is not "better" than the reader - they are equals. So as a writer, I strive to honor my readers by respecting and analyzing negative reviews to make me the best writer possible... because our readers deserve nothing less!

UK: Thank you Paula. Good writing to you, and great reviews!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Enid and Me

An aunt gave me my first Noddy book when I was about five. It was one of the first real books I owned. I loved it into oblivion, till the glue gave and the cardboard hard cover splayed open at the corners. Despite my parents' best efforts to turn me toward more literary reading material, I was a Blyton enthusiast through most of my childhood.

There was much in Enid Blyton's books that mystified me. I didn't, for instance, know what heather was exactly, or toadstools. My interpretation of the word bathe involved two buckets of water, a scoop and some soap, so I couldn't understand why someone would say, upon seeing the sea, "Oh, I'm dying to go bathe." I was always very intrigued by the food as well. They all seemed to eat lots of cold meat, which really didn't seem terribly appetizing, and scones--I had no idea what those were. But I wasn't about to be stopped by little things like that. I read every Enid Blyton book I could lay my hands on.

Inevitably a time arrived when it occurred to me that none of Blyton's books were about kids like me. Anne, Philip, the twins, even George the outsider, were still unmistakably English kids. The un-English things in those books were from either long ago or far away or both–and they were often dangerous. My parents, who belonged to the freedom movement generation of India, disapproved of all this subtext about Englishness. I couldn't figure out whose side I was supposed to be on. I began to feel occasional discomfort at references and threads in her books, just as I loved George but began to find Anne's constant caretaker role a bit annoying. The bad guy in the River of Adventure was the last straw. He had a scar down one arm. He was wicked and duplicitous. And he bore the name of Raya Uma. (Or was it Uma Raya?) She'd taken my name and given it to this villain! There were those other natives too, with pidgeon names like Oola and Bula, but the Uma thing really hit home. Enid, whose cute little signature I'd admired on the covers of her books for so long, had betrayed me.

Now the Famous Five are returning, thanks to Disney, in a new incarnation. Well, Disney brought us The Jungle Book with sugar on top, so why am I surprised? As the Guardian Arts Blog puts it:

In addition to protecting children from being scarred by old-fashioned stories, this push to modernise tales of the twentieth century will also relieve parents from the risk of being exposed to new children's literature. Yes, I know - terribly surprising, but even though it might have seemed that Blyton and her ilk had long ago drafted sufficient children's books to last forever in various rehashed forms, for some reason people keep writing and publishing new stories for children every year. With fresh plots and characters and contemporary themes! That sounds like it might be a bit intellectually stimulating. Perish the thought.

Nostalgia strikes again. George has a daughter, and her name is Jo. Naturally, that's short for Jyoti. Enid's daughter claims her mother would have been delighted. Sure, and Mowgli's great-grandchildren hold engineering degrees from IIT!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Two Old Friends

Leda Schubert and I lost our beloved dog and cat respectively within days of each other. Rest in peace, Winnie and Peppercorn.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Interview with agent Jamie Weiss Chilton

Jamie was Conference Manager at SCBWI before she joined the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. I knew her as the SCBWI Queen of the Review Book Deluge during the year I judged for the Golden Kite Award.

UK: You've been an editor with Random House. You've worked with SCBWI. What leads you now to agenting?
JWC: I've been lucky to have had a few wonderful jobs in different areas of publishing. The most exciting aspect of each one has been discovering and championing new talent. As an agent, that's my focus and first priority, whether the new talent is a first-time writer or an established author coming to me with new manuscripts. As an agent, I get to work
with more genres than I would as an editor. For example, I represent both literary and commercial fiction. Working on such a broad range of genres is a lot of fun, and each different project brings with it a unique set of requirements and challenges. Being an agent is exciting, and it's different every day.

UK: You represent children's and teen books exclusively. Among all the forms and genres in the children's/YA market, what's your special love?
JWC: I love discovering a story that I just can't stop thinking about -- it can be a four-page picture book or a two hundred page novel. I have some preferences listed in my bio on the agency's website, but I'm open to all genres. Right now I'd especially like to see character-driven novels for teens.

UK: Can we talk about picture books? What picture book trends do you see at this time?
JWC: I think picture books are coming back. There was a bit of a dry spell for a few years, during which publishers were tightening their belts regarding picture books and not adding as many to their lists, but I think we're seeing a reversal of that trend. I'm happy to see more risks being taken in the picture book genre, with wordless picture books, graphic novel-inspired picture books, and new formats. I love to see innovation in the genre.

UK: What about SF and speculative fiction? Any interesting titles I should look for?
JWC: I just read Unwind by Neal Shusterman and was impressed by the way he so fully created his science fiction world. I felt that every question I had in the beginning of the story was answered by the end, and then some. It's so important for a science fiction or fantasy writer to create a completely plausible alternate world. Even if all the details don't make it into the final story, the fact that you as the author have done the research on your alternate reality, so to speak, will translate into a better manuscript. I love science fiction and magical realism. I'd love to see elements of magical realism used more in children's books.

UK: At the most recent MFA (Writing for Children and YA) residency at Vermont College, there was a lot of discussion of the short story. It's such a wonderful form with so many variations. Its brevity seems suited to young readers, and yet collections of short stories don't seem to sell well. Your take?
JWC: I absolutely love short stories--they are my favorite non-children's reading, and I love them for kids, too. It is interesting that short story collections for kids and teens have not been more successful. I'm not sure why that is, maybe because conventional wisdom says that kids' novels are short, and therefore short stories are redundant. Let's end this trend -- I'd love to see some great short story collections come my way!

UK: The market for culturally specific stories has changed dramatically from the time I began writing almost 20 years ago. Do you think the multicultural market is slumping, or reincarnating?
JWC: A lot of editors are specifically looking for multicultural stories, and they all have different taste. I think this is a great time for multicultural writing.

UK: You've worn so many hats in the field. Have you ever felt drawn to writing?
JWC: I've never wanted to be a writer. I love to be the audience--the reader. Also I'm the kind, encouraging critic, the cheerleader, the fan, the go-between, and the negotiator. Agenting is a perfect fit for me.

UK: Anything else you want to say to writers seeking to get and stay published?
JWC: Our business is subjective and I hope authors keep that in mind when they receive rejection letters. As an agent, I'm more in touch with the authors than ever regarding how it feels to hear "no thanks." It's hard for me, too! Just remember that all it takes is one yes -- one perfect fit with an agent or editor and you're on your way. It can take a lot of tenacity and patience to get published. Keep trying, and while you're waiting for those agent and editor responses, continuing honing your skills at conferences and with
your critique group.

UK: Thank you Jamie! Very best to you in your new position.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Interviews from Bologna, and books and reading everywhere

Cynsations is running a series of agent, editor, author, and illustrators interviews from among presenters at the SCBWI 2008 Bologna conference. For starters, read interviews with agents Tracey Adams of Adams Literary and Steven Chudney of The Chudney Agency. There will be 32 interviews in all.

Half of an Elephant by Argentinian artist Gusti is wonderfully funny and thought-provoking picture book fare.

A former teacher, now a writer, You Bo teaches at the Khmer Writers' Association in Cambodia. The Association aims to promote literacy, reading, and the publication of books for children.

British author Narinder Dhami's Dani's Diary is about past and present and relationships in a blended family.

The Alif Laila Book Bus Society was Pakistan's first lending library to bring first books and then computers, to children from all socio-economic backgrounds.

Of Barbers and Ghosts

A generous barber, an angry wife, and a fearful ghost form the ingredients for this funny, whimsical story from Bengal, retold by noted storytellers Martha Hamilton and Mitch Weiss. Last year, I was invited to read this story in manuscript form, a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Martha and Mitch use simple prose and quick turns of story, and the illustrations by Kristen Balouch, with their large flat blocks of color and strategically slanted perspective, convey a world completely suited to these characters, both ghostly and human. From August House.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Updates and Downloads

Cynthia Leitich Smith comments on the cutting and pasting she's been doing lately. If you loved the vampires in alternative Austin in Tantalize you'll need to keep an eye out for Eternal.

The Brown Bookshelf presents Twenty-eight Days Later, a Black History Month celebration of children's literature. Look for more posts and discussion during February.

If you're considering whether to subscribe to Kahani, the only South Asian literary children's magazine, you can preview an excerpt or download a sample issue.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Where did January go?

Disappeared into the snowstorm that was the January 2008 MFA-Writing for Children and Young Adults residency at Vermont College of Fine Arts, that's where. Eleven days of faculty meetings, high energy lectures, insomnia, continuous conversations about books and writing, hurried breakfasts, lunches and dinners, insomnia, workshops, a newly launched picture book certificate program, insomnia, Jane Yolen as writer-in-residence, meeting with students, following the pink schedule all the way to graduation, (did I say insomnia?) and more.

Handout in pdf format from my lecture on historical fiction.

Thank you (and dhanyavaad, and nendri) to students and teachers of The Red Oaks School, for hosting me for a lovely two-day visit right after the VCFA residency.