Saturday, May 29, 2010

Lucy's Table: A Celebration

Meet my writing group.

Left to right, Stephanie Farrow, me, Lucy Hampson, Katherine Hauth, and Vaunda Micheaux Nelson. The Autodidactics. We ate, laughed, talked, retreated, argued, read, worried, revised, shared writing and rewriting, commiserated over setbacks and celebrated successes. Sometimes Jeanne Whitehouse joined us, but most often on my trips down for meetings, it was the five of us.

This year we lost one of our own: our dear friend Lucy Hampson.

Lucy gave us laughter. She gave us her wealth of knowledge about children and she gave us her unending concern for young readers: their lives, their minds, and their eccentric genius. She gave us fresh tomato and mozzarella platters, topped with basil straight from the pot on her deck, drizzled with olive oil and loving care. She gave us fires in the winter, and the kettle was always on for tea. She gave her kitchen over to us when we descended upon her. She gave us straight up critiques, told it the way it was. Her questions were always clear and direct, often delivered with a laugh that still rings in my mind. She lit candles when we gathered around her table. She cared deeply about her stories and ours. She and I went to the mat on a couple of occasions. Lucy always said it was just my brown girl self and her white girl self on a collision course, and it was meant to be. I learned so much from her.

We have an assortment of eating habits among us, spanning vegetarianism and allergies to chocolate, wheat, soy, and dairy. Lucy always said if she ever got mad at us she'd serve up cheeseburgers with a chocolate shake and we'd all have to go hungry while she ate!

For thirteen years we gathered at Lucy's table. Hold hands with me around its memory now.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Updates and downloads: Two Award Announcements and a Summer Workshop

Lee & Low Books announces the 11th Annual New Voices Award. The Award will be given for a children's picture book manuscript by a writer of color. Established in 2000, past submissions have included The Blue Roses, Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds: The Sammy Lee Story, and Bird. Manuscripts will be accepted through September 30, 2010 (postmark deadline).

For stories inspired by Asia, from Asian residents, nationals or writers from the wider Asian diaspora, The National Book Development Council of Singapore and Scholastic Asia are jointly launching the Scholastic Asian Book Award. Entries for the 2011 award must be submitted for consideration by December 31, 2010. Results will be announced in May 2011. Download brochure and registration form.

Postgraduate WritersFinally, here's a summer opportunity for YA writers: There is still space in the advanced small-group workshop with award-winning author An Na at the 15th Annual Postgraduate Writers’ Conference at Vermont College of Fine Arts, August 9-15, 2010. Limited scholarships are also available to support attendance by interested writers. For details go to, or contact the Conference Director at or 802-828-8835.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Singapore Connections, Part 4: New Crayons

Color Online features a new meme, asking: What's new on your shelf? What books did you get recently in the mail, at the library or the store?

Well, I'm still in transit, so this is the suitcase edition. And because these are books I picked up in Singapore, it's also the AFCC/Singapore connections edition:

Flint, Shamini. Inspector Singh Investigates: A Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder. Platkus, 2009.

Flint, Shamini. Inspector Singh Investigates: The Singapore School of Villainy. Platkus, 2010.

Guha, Soma. Mahabharata. Vol 1, The Game. Scholastic India, 2007.

Guha, Soma. Mahabharata. Vol 2, The War. India, 2007.

Lee, Jin Pyn. The Elephant and the Tree. Running Press Kids, 2009.

Nayar, Nandini. What Shall I Make? Illus. Proiti Roy. Tulika, 2009.

Rangachari, Devika. Harsha Vardhana. Scholastic India, 2009.

Shah, Idries. The Boy Without A Name. Illus. Mona Caron. Hoopoe Books, 2007

Tendulkar, Vijay. Five Plays for Children. Trans. Ajay Joshi. Scholastic India, 2008.

Wee, Jessie. Supercat. Gemma Books, 2003.

Multiple author anthologies, no author or editor named:
Be Witched: Stories of Witches and Wizards.
Scholastic India, 2008.
Science Fiction Stories
, Vol 7. Scholastic India, 2007.
Superhero: The Fabulous Adventures of Rocket Kumar and Other Indian Superheroes. Scholastic India, 2007.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Multilingual Publishing - Walking the Tightrope

I want to say something about the translations (into Hindi and Tamil anyway, and maybe Bangla--the ones I have some slight access to directly or indirectly) but before that it might make sense to share this slideshow from Tulika Books, the publisher of Out of the Way! Out of the Way!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Singapore Connections, part 3

This and some more pictures just came in from Kirk at Singapore American School:

I asked the kids to share three things they remember from your presentation. The responses always included:
  1. Writing drafts is a good thing.
  2. It takes a long time to finish a story to make it into a book.
  3. We can write with pencil or on a computer
  4. There aren’t any more typewriters.
  5. There are two Uma Krishnaswamis (I think that impressed them the most!)
I love the way young minds cut to the chase.

The kids at SAS are used to visiting authors. They found it remarkably natural that a writer from around the world would come to speak to them. I also got the best travel advice. A second-grader asked me if I had jetlag. "A bit," I confessed. "Drink lots of water," she advised.

Speaking of cutting to the chase, when I read Out of the Way! Out of the Way! at the Global Indian International School (both at the East Coast campus and Balestier) two repetitive elements of the book lent great energy to the reading. One was the refrain of the title. The K-2 groups all joined me with enthusiasm in a chorus of "Out of the way! Out of the way!" every time we circled around to that point in the story. In general the younger the group, the harder it was to stop. I tried using two hands (as in one chorus per hand) and that sort of worked. I have to admit there were places where it was just necessary to let the group keep going and repeat the lines four or five times instead of two. Sort of like toddlers walking and unable to stop, we tottered on together, collapsing in heaps of laughter. The other lines that the kids began repeating, although I hadn't asked them to, were "from here to there...and back again..." I'd walk as I read, from here to there. In a couple of groups the kids walked their fingers on the ground where they sat. Children really do listen to stories with their whole bodies.

I asked them what the story was about. Here are some of the responses:
  1. Out of the way! Out of the way! (Sure, why not?)
  2. Trees
  3. We like trees
  4. We must take care of trees
  5. Trees grow big like us
This last was from a very tiny child who came up and hugged me when I left.

I ended up having way more time on my hands than I thought I would, so I told a few other stories, including a version of a story about a girl and some animals and a red ball that is currently a work in progress. No one's seen this manuscript yet--not editors, not critique group colleagues--so it was really nice to see that the children got the sense of cumulative story that I didn't even know I was after. So now I have a new technique to add to developing a picture book manuscript: trying it out as an oral tale to see if its energy carries from beginning to end.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Singapore Connections, part 2

The historic Arts House, Singapore's first court and former Parliament house, was the venue for the inaugural Asian Festival of Children's Content (AFCC) from 6 - 9 May 2010. The Festival consisted of four different programme strands: Asian Children's Writers and Illustrators Conference, Asian Children's Publishers Syposium, Asian Primary and Preschool Teachers Congress, and Asian Parents Forum. Writers, illustrators, publishers, distributors, parents, institutional buyers, literary agents, and multimedia producers of children's content--we were all tripping over each other, talking to and past and around each other, going to book launches and readings, speaking on panels, moderating panels, and in general wearing ourselves out in this very good cause.

My talks/panels (thank you to librarian, writer, and blogger Tarie for the pictures!)

Local Content, Global Appeal, all about creating the kinds of books I care about, the ones that cross geographical and cultural boundaries with ease and flair. Books I'm always telling my VCFA students they need to include in their bibliographies. Speaking of which I picked up some new gems in the book exhibit area. Shamini Flint, Jessie Wee, Jin Pyn Lee: voices new to my ears, and I can't wait to pore over their work.

Many Windows: How to Co-Write Across Cultures and Countries
, in which Rukhsana Khan and I talked about the work we did with Elisa Carbone in crafting a set of interlinked middle grade stories. One of those sessions that felt more like a coffee-shop conversation.

Insider's Guide to Getting Published
. Now those of you who know me can tell this is not the kind of topic that makes me want to dance, exactly. But my little piece of the panel was about craft, and getting work to the point where it's fit to be read, which I have managed to learn a thing or two about over the years, in spite of myself. Others on the panel: Anushka Ravishankar author of one of my all-time favorite picture books, Tiger On a Tree, spoke about editorial expectations. Paul Kooperman had us in stitches with his autobiographical account of how poets can be sold (indeed!) and passion can meet opportunity. Holly Thompson author of the YA novel Orchards, talked about the rollercoaster ride of contracts and publication. Agent Mita Kapur moderated our discussion with insight and a clear passion for the work we all do.
I also got to moderate a couple of sessions. It didn't feel at all "moderate" because I introduced Christopher Cheng, about whose note-taking and research there is nothing moderate! In addition to his museum research (the image of a single basket stays indelibly with me) Chris shared anecdotes, family history and tales of early Chinese immigration to Australia, all fodder for his historical novels and chapter books. It was such a pleasure to carry the conversation further at breakfast and then again briefly at the closing reception. Stay in touch, Chris!

And finally I got to introduce two researchers and teacher-educators who shared the plenary session of the Asian Primary and Preschool Teachers Congress, Dr. Chitra Shegar and Dr. Antonia Chandrasegaran. What they had to say about teaching reading and writing had everything to do with paying attention to the process, looking for what works, and above all trusting children. A call for teaching over testing, it was a marvelous note on which to end the conference.

And there's more. There will have to be a Part 3 or even 4 to catch it all, and I'll probably still miss something. Next up, my visits to two campuses of the Global Indian International School.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Singapore Connections, Part 1

My big mistake on this trip to the City of Lions (no lions--another story) was that I forgot my camera! But I've been was promised pictures by others who did better on that score, so perhaps a few will be forthcoming here's one. Thanks, Kirk Palmer and Lisa Hogan.

A big thank you to Singapore American School, where I spoke to children in 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grades, and ended the day with a brief session with teachers. The campus is beautiful (and huge--the school feels like a small city). The libraries (yes, more than one, how about that?) were full to overflowing with materials, with little nooks that invited kids to curl up with a book. The students were an amazing bunch as well: curious, questioning, responsive, attentive. Many were third culture kids, born in one country, with parents from one or more countries, and living now in Singapore, which of course has a crossroads culture all its own. Thank you all for a wonderful visit.

As always our connections were through story. I have to confess that by the time I got to meet with the teachers I was teetering on the edge of severe jet-lag. Still, we read, wrote and talked about story together. They read a draft (very draft) manuscript of mine, and raised marvelous questions that will help me along when and if that work ever sees ink.

A special thanks to Kirk Palmer and Sally Burk, Primary and Intermediate librarians. I'm so grateful to you for your generous hospitality. You also made me laugh until my sides hurt, which goes above and beyond the usual expectations related to hosting a visiting author!

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Tell Us We're Home by Marina Budhos

Back when I read The Professor of Light, I knew I wanted Marina Budhos to write young adult fiction. I picked up a copy of the IndiaInk paperback edition of The Professor of Light in Chennai, and it certainly wasn't being marketed as YA. Never mind that, I knew! I knew this writer needed to find her way into young adult literature, and I knew her books would be rich and interesting, dense with history and bursting with heart.

Not bragging or anything, but it's nice to know that I was right. Ask Me No Questions (2006) brought us the story of Nadira and her family, a story of fear, struggle, and identity in a post-9/11 America.

Tell Us We're Home is the story of three eighth-grade girls: Jaya, Maria, and Lola, the daughters of maids and nannies who work for the families of the girls' wealthy classmates. Jaya stands at the pivotal center of the novel. The triple braid of this novel makes room for echoes to go back and forth among the three stories. When her mother is accused of theft the scant footing that Jaya has in the world threatens to erode away, and each new slippage affects the lives of her friends as well. Maria's mother's anguished whisper, "Don't be a stranger to me" could well express unspoken fears in all three families. Lola's question, raised in an assignment for Mr. Cohen, could be the novel's central question: "Being American you're supposed to feel like you have a right. But what if you don't feel like you have a right to anything?" Budhos excavates class in a society that pretends not to possess such a thing. The voices are perfectly tuned. The narrative flows. And in all Tell Us We're Home leaves footprints in the mind long after the book is closed.