Sunday, June 27, 2010

OOTW Blog Tour, Day 7: Plot Whisperer, CLCD, and The Drift Record

Martha Alderson, who works with plot, confesses to having done a double take upon her first reading of Out of the Way! Out of the Way! What makes it work? she wondered. Where's the plot? Yes, well, it is an odd little book, that way. Martha offers her very interesting insights into the book and its story at Plot Whisperer for Writers and Readers.

Children's Literature Comprehensive Database is a subscription database containing thousands of reviews of children's and YA books, and with hundreds of institutional subscribers. You've probably seen their reviews in B & N and Borders online listings. I've reviewed for them since back in the print newsletter days. Today, the CLCD blog posts an interview with a focus on writers and the building of community.

In light of which it seems only right that my dear friend and VCFA colleague Julie Larios should get the last word. She and I led the picture book workshop together in the early days of the picture book semester at VCFA: a pure delight. On this final day of the OOTW blog tour, Julie raises questions about the passage of time in the book, and the challenges of achieving simplicity and avoiding didacticism. The answers are up at The Drift Record.

Note: A great many thanks are due to everyone who took part in this virtual tour. The archives of all these posts together form a far-reaching conversation on the nature of the picture book: its writing, its illustration, a host of craft and production decisions, its effect on readers, the implications of word choice, the interplay of text and image, and more. Who would have thought such a slender little book would grow quite this many conversations?

Namaste, and thank you all.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

OOTW Blog Tour, Day 6: Jacket Knack and Scribbly Katia

Carol Brendler, versatile judging-books-by-their-covers correspondent on Jacket Knack, explores folk art images in light of Uma K..y's interview with artnavy on Saffron Tree. Urging the teaching of art appreciation to children, Uma remarks that the history of art is "the social, economic and political history of a particular era and civilisation. It does not happen in splendid isolation."

And on Scribbly Katia, Katia Novet Saint-Lot has posted adorable video footage of her daughter's class in the Indus International School in Hyderabad, India. The children listen to the teacher reading the book, join in the refrain, and answer a question or two about the story.

In the second video, the teacher's using the English text and including a literal Hindi translation of the refrain, rather than using Veena Shivpuri's Hindi translation, which is idiomatic rather than literal and may, moreover, be a little more complex than these Hindi as a Second Language learners would understand. So instead she's framing the construction of meaning in Hindi upon students' existing understanding of English.

Speaking of construction, another analogy that keeps recurring, I spent my day hauling straw from the construction site of my friend Terry, who has just built a straw-bale outbuilding for herself.

Built! Much of it with her own hands! Look at those recycled bottles set into the wall. Makes the construction of fiction feel like a snap, trust me.

Terry's letting me take her leftover straw to mulch my seedlings, so I can trick this desert soil into retaining water. A reminder of how necessary green, growing things are to the air we breathe and the bodies we inhabit. Pure coincidence but that little nasturtium bloom is of a variety called "Empress of India".

Friday, June 25, 2010

OOTW Blog Tour, Day 5: Saffron Tree and Notes From New England (via India)

From Saffron Tree artnavy returns, this time with a focus on my almost-namesake, illustrator Uma Krishnaswamy. Uma talks about folk art, a career in illustration, singing in a variety of visual tunes, and the nature of children as a reading audience.

Nandini Bajpai sends us Notes from New England, only she and her family are in India right now, reacting in situ to roads and trees like the one in the book. Look at all those amazing tree-road pictures.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

OOTW Blog Tour, Day 4: Brown Paper and Plot Whisperer

Out of the Way! Out of the Way! is featured today by Niranjana Iyer over at Brown Paper. Niranjana also reviewed the book for The Asian Review of Books.

Plot consultant Martha Alderson was also scheduled to feature the book today, on her blog, Plot Whisperer for Writers and Readers.

However, a funny thing happened between draft and final. You know how that works.

Martha found that my beginning answers to her questions raised still more questions, so we're back to e-mail exchanges right now, because the plot implications of a tree-road-boy picture book are, well, growing a little larger than we'd thought they might.

It's all good, and it's all necessary. We're just going--all together now!--Out of the Way! Out of the Way! for a little while to make it happen. Martha's post will go live later this week, or as a postscript to the tour early next week.

All this talk of trees and roads made me realize, as I took this picture of a road and some trees in Ann Arbor, Michigan, that I've been taking pictures of paths, trails, roads, and trees for years, for no particular reason.

Funny how the subconscious mind works. These are from assorted places (New Mexico, Colorado, Washington State, India, Singapore, and Switzerland).

Meanwhile over at the Lee & Low office, they're sprouting seed paper.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

OOTW Blog Tour, Day 3: PaperTigers and Asia in the Heart, World on the Mind

Two virtual stops today for the tree, the boy, the road, and me:

PaperTigers, a Pacific Rim Voices project speaking about multicultural books for young readers, world literacy, and more.

Asia in the Heart, World on the Mind: Tarie blogs from Quezon City, in the Philippines and reaches across the world with her comments on all things Asian in children's literature, one book at a time.

Related to craft, yesterday I spoke at the Sandberg Literacy Institute in Toledo OH, and stayed in a handcrafted timber-frame guest house belonging to neighbors of Dr. Susanna Hapgood, Asst. Professor in the Dept. of Curriculum and Instruction, University of Toledo, and my kind host on this trip.

Look at the care and love that went into building this place.

Story should be crafted with no less care.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Monday, June 21, 2010

OOTW Blog Tour Day 1: Educating Alice and Saffron Tree

While I'm on planes heading for the Sandberg Literacy Institute at the University of Toledo, Out of the Way! Out of the Way! travels to two blogs on two continents:

Educating Alice
Saffron Tree

Check out Monica Edinger's students' responses to the book, and artnavy's review. Note that Monica's in the US and artnavy's in India, so our Day 1 will stretch to accommodate two time-zones half a world apart.

Meanwhile this question came in from Sarah Sullivan:
I noticed that Out of the Way! Out of the Way! does not follow the usual 32 page format we are accustomed to for picture books in the United States. Is there another convention for picture books published in India?
I asked Radhika Menon, the publisher at Tulika Books. It turns out that it's about costs and saving paper, but there's more. The trick, Radhika says, is finding a size that can accommodate not only the English text with illustrations, but also allow for translated text, which sometimes takes twice as much space.

A 20- to 24-page format seems to do both, and also allows for the economy of paperback. In comparison to the larger 32-page hardcover packaging we know in the US, there is no room for the luxury of half-title pages and endpapers. Still, look at the inside front cover! Visually, this is endpaper material, only with a slightly smaller footprint.

Radhika goes on to say that if they used the 32-page convention and published in hardcover...
Out of the way! Out of the Way! would have to be priced at Rs 150 or more. And for books in Indian languages that is just too high. The one thing we do not want to do is to make a difference between English and the rest--that is, make a cheaper edition for Indian languages and privilege the English with better production. The idea behind our multilingual publishing is to show the Indian language books are as good as the English ones.
So glad you asked, Sarah.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Blog tour next week: Out of the Way! Out of the Way!

Dear readers, writers, parents, teachers, artists, book enthusiasts, and dear friends all:

Next week, a dozen bloggers in the US, UK, India, and the Philippines, will all feature the new picture book from Tulika Books, OUT OF THE WAY! OUT OF THE WAY! written by me (Uma Krishnaswami) and illustrated (yes, it's true) by artist Uma Krishnaswamy. (Note the one-letter difference in our names, which of course does not get picked up in the 8 Indian language editions of the book.) Chaos and cheerful disorder abound in OUT OF THE WAY! OUT OF THE WAY! as a boy, a tree, and a road all grow together. I hope you'll enjoy the journey as much as I have.

If you'd like to follow the blog tour, please check back here on this blog for each day's links starting Monday, June 21.

The posts will include children's responses to the book, videos from classrooms on two continents, interviews, art notes, writing process, translations, and more. Your comments on the book and the blog tour are always welcome.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Insider Perspectives and the Nature of Art

The question of outsider narratives is a tricky one, but here is a touching comment from Joseph Ruak, the Repagu’nu’worh man who worked with Nancy Bo Flood on Warriors in the Crossfire:
After my father and I met and worked with Nancy on our first project together, I felt like Nancy was sent by our ancestors to look for my father and me, so that we might work together to save our dances. I have since adopted Nancy to be my Nina or Godmother. Anyone who has the patience and takes the time to see another world view is an exceptional human being.
More in Nancy's interview with Dianne White. Ruak's generous words speak to the esteem in which he holds the writer, and to the loving respect with which Nancy articulates the story.

Fractured histories lead to the yearning of a people to preserve what was so nearly lost, but isn't art by its nature a process of hybridization? Here's a marvelous visual commentary by artist Huang Yong Ping: The History of Chinese Painting and the History of Modern Western Art Washed in the Washing Machine for Two Minutes (1987/1993). A Chinese teabox, paper pulp, and glass. The text detail: "The pulp remains of two books washed in a washing machine on an irregularly broken sheet of glass. The glass sits across the top of an open wooden Chinese tea box." The two books, it turns out, are art history texts, exactly as the installation title states. Pulped by the random movements generated by the washing machine.

Where Ruak speaks for preservation, Huang Yong Ping speaks for reinvention and re-creation. They're both compelling voices. Maybe we're all dancing in some cosmic washing machine?

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Once Upon a Baby Brother: Sarah Sullivan and the Source of Story

Sarah Sullivan's new picture book, illustrated by one of my favorite picture book artists, Tricia Tusa (In a Blue Room) seems on the surface to be about new babies and the stresses they bring with them. Look again.

UK: Sarah, welcome to WWBT! Are you Lizzie? Is Lizzie you? Is that an obvious question?

SS: Hi Uma.First off, I agree with you about Tricia Tusa. I feel incredibly lucky to have her illustrate my story!

To answer your question, there is a little bit of me in all of my characters, and yes, in many respects, Lizzie is like me. Even though she doesn't realize it, she is trying to figure out her life by writing stories. I think all writers do this – indeed maybe all humans do it, even if they don't write the stories down. They try to make sense of their lives by daydreaming, by spinning alternate scenarios to counteract a bad outcome in real life. It's human nature. It's our way of coping with the incomprehensibility of life. We have this innate need to find rational order and a system of natural justice in the world. But alas, that is not reality.

As a storyteller, my coping mechanism is to transform an untenable situation into story and play around with it. I examine the situation from other people's viewpoints to see if I can make some sense of it. In a very strange way, Lizzie's story mirrors what was happening in my own life at the time that I wrote it.

UK: Can you speak to the concept of Marvin as Muse, and where that thing we call "inspiration" comes from?

SS: On my Facebook page, I have posted one of my favorite quotes, "[I]t's all copy," which I heard Nora Ephron use in an interview on South Carolina public television. Both of Ephron's parents were screenwriters and Ephron said that, when she was growing up and something bad happened to someone in the household, her mother would always say, "it's all copy," meaning, don't worry about the bad thing, because someday you might get a story out of it.

It's in that sense that Marvin is a muse. The people and situations which seem to cause you the most grief, may also provide you with the richest story material. Anything which arouses passion, be it positive or negative, can plant the seeds of a story that you will have a burning desire to tell. Not to get too serious about this, but as Stephen Sondheim noted in a recent interview on Fresh Air, art is all about making order out of chaos. This is certainly true for storytellers and it is definitely true of Lizzie. Marvin makes chaos, so Lizzie has to try and make order out of it. I see students doing this all the time when I teach writing workshops. They don't realize how much their stories reflect real life. Even if the stories are filled with wizards and dragons, the story problems originate in reality.

UK: I fell in love with Marvin's emerging language. "Ziff wizzle" and (possibly my new favorite snatch of picture book dialogue) "loops." These are strikingly perfect words for a busy toddler. Tell me how you get under the skin and into the hearts of these little characters when you have so few pages to work with.

SS: Well, I hate to confess this, but I have an inner Marvin too. Also, I remembered things my son said when he was little and how he used to react to different situations.

The funny thing was, when it came time to copyedit the text, the copyeditor asked me about the proper spelling of these words. I particularly enjoyed one email which asked – "is the "w" in Ziff wizzle supposed to be capitalized?"

UK: Once Upon a Baby Brother has many layers: the plot situation, the new baby, is only one of them. How did the layers emerge for you as you worked on this book?

SS: This was actually the most difficult part of the book to work out. I started with a little girl named Lizzie who loved to write stories and who was the writing star of her second grade. At home, she was frustrated by her pesky brother Marvin who demanded TOO much of her parents' attention, (as far as Lizzie was concerned) and who was always getting in her way. It was a challenge to balance the home story with the school story in the space of 32 pages. My editor, Melanie Kroupa, helped a lot with that. She kept urging me to try another revision. She loved the idea of Lizzie turning Marvin into the superhero of her comic book.

UK: Anything else you want to add, Sarah?

SS. While it is never my aim to "teach lessons" with my books, I have to confess that I hope, if kids take anything away from ONCE UPON A BABY BROTHER, it is an understanding that life experience, no matter how mundane or trying, nevertheless provides a rich well of story material.

And I think Tricia Tusa's illustrations added a wonderful layer and texture to the story. She really brought out the love between Lizzie and Marvin in a way that provides the perfect counterpoint to the text.

Thank you so much, Uma for the opportunity to visit Writing With A Broken Tusk. These were wonderful, thought-provoking questions!

UK: Thanks, Sarah. Lots of luck to Lizzie and you.
Sarah blogs at Mountain View and is also on the team at Through the Tollbooth.