September 30, 2009

Dear Sydney Primary Schools: You've Got The Wrong Idea


Twilight is now being challenged, according to The School Library Journal, in Sydney, Australia.

Dear Conservative Sydney Schools (Added for Judith's sake):
Would you believe that some of us Yanks don't like those books either?
(To which the Universe says, "So?")

We may not like it, but we would slap down our library cards to give anyone a chance to read it. We understand not wanting the younger kids to read it, but if their parents are okay with it, you're going to have to let that go. As for restricting it because you're afraid the younger students won't know it's fictional? Have you seen any sparkly vampires lately? If so, you might be in the wrong line of work.

Let it go, Sydney schools. Just grit your teeth and enjoy the sparklies, and try not to trip over anything or mind if someone is looming over you, watching you sleep. It's all in good fun.

With love, FW


September 29, 2009

Contests Galore, An Intriging Interview & More Wise Words

Genre Wars. I love it. Via Yat Yee we discover that the Literary Lab is throwing a contest, and you're invited. Submit your 1 - 2,000-word short story in any genre to the wizards at the lab, and win a chance to be included in their anthology (Oooh, magic word), and be republished on their blog. Rules and Details here. And you'll love the Genre Wars button. It made me laugh. Especially that bit about vampires...

Another fun contest comes from our friendly bloggers and writers of speculative fiction. Every year the Bulwer-Lytton challenges wretched writers to reproduce that thrillingly horrible first line, It was a dark and stormy night (which wouldn't have been half so bad without the rest of the paragraph. Yikes). This year, The Spectacle is giving you a chance to do it up right for a chance at a free book and a book card to Powell's. A opening scene -- spooky, suspenseful, succinct. Wordy writers need not apply, 'til they've tighten things up a bit.

Finally, ALICE MCDERMOTT, for those of you in the know, is judging the Inkwell 12TH Annual Short Fiction Contest, with a deadline of October 31st. Big prize, small reading fee... and I can think of a short story or two I've read recently (BROAD HINT, WRITING GROUP) which would qualify. Check it out.

Challenges abound!

One of the best things about the Write Against Racism project at Bowllan's Blog at the School Library Journal is meeting new authors. Just One More Book interviews the indomitable Rukhsana Khan.

Finally, my thought du jour:



September 28, 2009

Just A Lot of Air Pollution


Seems weird that it would take a presidential speech to get this point across: information is free, and you're free to disregard it, too. What's the point of burning a book? It just generates unnecessary smoke, it won't make the information disappear...


September 26, 2009

Turning Pages: Adventure, Travel,Optimism: Say YES!

Oh, the beauty of a run-on sentence, in the higher service of a story:
If the train makes it over the last treacherous gorge, there is a good chance that you and Nancy and Joe will have to deal with werewolves and mad scientists, real ninjas and fake vampires, one roller-skating baby, a talking pig, creatures from another planet (possibly another dimension), killer poetry, clues from classic children's books, two easy riddles, several bad knock knock jokes, plenty of explosions, a monkey disguised as a pirate, two meatballs, a blue plastic Star Wars lunch box (missing its matching thermos), three ticking clocks, and not just one bad guy - but a whole army of villains, cads, scalawags, sneaks, rats, varmints, and swindlers. Also several desperadoes, a gang of evildoers, and one just plain bad egg. - from Episode 1 of The Exquisite Corpse, by Jon Scieszka.

Is it just me, or is the Library of Congress becoming suddenly unbearably cool? I mean, check out the The American Memory Collection -- it will knock your socks off. And a National Ambassadors for Young People's Literature? Since when did they suddenly get that books and kids and the combination thereof was beyond cool? And now they're hosting this gorgeous crazy project called The Exquisite Corpse, which is really that same game we played during rainy recesses in junior high, where we wrote part of a story, folded the page over, and passed it to the next person to write the next chapter, and the next...

It's so much fun, and the more nutty creative the people with whom you have to play, the better it gets. Ambassador Scieszka really has invited some great people to play. The one-and-only M.T. Anderson. Kate DiCamillo. Shannon Hale. Nikki Grimes. The amazing Susan Cooper. DANIEL HANDLER. And there's MORE fun people, some of whom I don't recognize. But wouldn't you have been tickled to be invited?

But, you HAVE. You can read it online, and turn each lovely page, or there's an RSS feed, and you don't have to miss a single episode. THIS is what it means to have fun with words, and to enjoy a story. What a great thing, to show kids you can HAVE FUN WITH IT. Hat tip to Leila for the 411.

Sarla is sick to death of living with her always rushed, always running, super-glam reporter mother. Sure, it's a kick to eat take-out and have someone who has a steady stream of interesting boyfriends, but every once in awhile, it'd be nice if Sarla's mother could put her first, and her high-profile job second.

But being embedded with the troops in Tarkestan won't wait, and with her mother's last minute change of plans Sarla's usual options are all gone. Everyone is already gone for summer vacation. Even her Auntie Piloo is off to see her guru in Bangalore, and no way is Sarla going to tag along for that madness. It looks like she's going to be shuttled off again -- but this time to her grandparent's place in Daroga, India.

Obviously, a village in India is a far, far cry from London. There are the surface things -- the weird smells and the heat and the awkwardness she feels in her London threads while others wear the traditional salwar kameez. But the not-so-surface things are even worse -- the fact that her mother hasn't been back to see her parents in FIVE YEARS, because they had a massive blowout no one will tell her about. The strange way her grandparent's driver and cook dote on her, and the way their granddaughter, Bina, seems to disapprove of her.

Sarla's no stranger to disapproval -- and with optimism -- sometimes misplaced, and enthusiasm -- sometimes unwelcome, she dives in to her summer break in India, hoping to find out something new about who she is, and where she comes from.

What she finds out includes heartache and family secrets, and is bigger than she could have ever guessed.

If you've never heard of Phoolan Devi, the so-called Bandit Queen of India, or really read a lot about the caste system, this book will be an eye-opener. Told in two voices, from Sarla's London perspective, and from the perspective of Bina, whose humble caste is expected to narrow her life choices, INDIAN SUMMER is a captivating look at modern India, how its relationship with colonialism created it as it is now, and how its young people are leading it into the future.

And other than all of that sociological stuff, it's a darned good story. But don't take my word for it. Check out Susan Whelan's review at Suite 101.

Obviously I am not unbiased. When I got a chance to read OPERATION YES, by beloved fellow blogger Sara Lewis Holmes, the full expectation was that I would, of course, feel about it as I feel about Sara. I expected Big Time Good, a read-through-in-one-sitting kind of thing.

Well, halfway through, I had to get up and walk. I had to sniffle. I had to write down a few quotes that resonated. When I was finished reading, I had to read it again.

And say, "Huh."

With themes of kindness and community reminiscent of the 1997 Newbery-winner, The View from Saturday, OPERATION YES is a transcendent novel that breaks down the potential of the human spirit into 6th grade vessels. Even without the compelling bonds of friendship, I'd say OPERATION YES is better than good. Thought-provoking. Wonder-producing. Solidly magical.

If a military-themed novel seems like it'd be short on wonder to you, that's because you haven't yet met the floor-crawling and tattooed Miss Loupe, the denizens of Room 208 at the dilapidated Young Oaks Elementary, and the cast and characters in the town of Reform, North Carolina.

Young Oaks is a school that's heard a lot of No's. Mrs. Heard is the principal who would really like a "Yes!" from the School Commission to fix all of the broken sidewalks and backed up plumbing. Mr. Nix, whose very name says "No!" is the first-grade teacher, who would like all students to say "Yes!" to coloring only in the lines. (It wouldn't do for them to fall into The Quagmire of Ignorance.) Many of the students at Young Oaks would like to say "Yes!" to not being bored, to understanding all the rules, and to staying in one place long enough for it to feel like home.

"Yes!" doesn't always come as fast as we want it to.

"Yes, Sir!" or "Yes, Ma'am" are two of the wisest words you'll ever utter to a commanding officer. However, if you're not a soldier, but a 6th grader living in Reform, that "yes" can come awfully hard. It's almost impossible to say yes when you feel like you've got no choices.

But saying "Yes!" means making room in yourself for something special to happen. When Miss Loupe slips into her special black stealth slippers, she teaches the students in her run-down classroom how to say "Yes!" to life. They learn to fall correctly -- because sometimes you get hit. They learn to be disciplined enough to relax into the unexpected -- because the unexpected can either be just a crack in your window, or a new way to let in light.

Learning to roll with the punches life throws isn't just about theater or art. It's a life skill. And OPERATION YES is a book about learning not only to say yes, but to move that yes around and pay it forward, to others who might need help in believing in it.

The magic of this book is difficult to articulate -- I refuse to oversimplify it with a plot description, which just pulls it down to quantifiable nuts and bolts. It's like explaining flight - it's hard to get impressed until you lift off of the ground.

OPERATION YES lifts off. And flies. But don't take my word for it. Check out Lesa's Book Salon.

These books were all library borrowed, purchased, or, author gifts. You can find Indian Summer and both The View from Saturday, as well as Operation Yes from an independent bookstore near you!

September 24, 2009

Life on Earth, Life in Space

It seems like it's a reading extravaganza around here lately, between Tanita and me. On the average, I would generally insist that Tanita reads much more quickly than I do, but I also have a tendency to (sort of counter-intuitively) devour books with a vengeance when I have a lot of other things going on—I'll work very intensely for a while, then I'll need a brain break and I'll sit with coffee and a book for longer than is strictly necessary. Anyway, here are the last couple of novels that I enjoyed.

Firstly, I finally got around to reading Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson. I think that every book I read by her I've enjoyed just a bit more than the last. I liked 13 Little Blue Envelopes a lot, in particular, but also felt like certain aspects weren't quite "there" in terms of the execution, though I adored the overall premise. I did NOT feel that way about Suite Scarlett, and in fact, I was quite pleased with both the premise (also quirky and intriguing—fifteen-year-old Scarlett and her siblings are growing up in a shabby-chic New York hotel) and the overall reading experience.

Scarlett is the second-youngest of four, and on her fifteenth birthday (like her older brother Spencer and older sister Lola) she receives the key to one of the hotel's suites—and assumes responsibility for taking care of its guests. But that summer's guest in her suite—the flamboyant Mrs. Amberson—ends up being quite a bit more than Scarlett bargained for, in good ways and not-so-good ways. Meanwhile, Scarlett's dealing with family drama and trying to negotiate a tricky first love. This story has multiple layers, all of them interesting, and each character is unique and vivid and really comes alive. A wonderfully unconventional story of coming into one's own independence in a close-knit family full of strong personalities.

Old Man's War by John Scalzi isn't a YA novel, but it's a good sci-fi space war adventure that will definitely appeal to older YA readers. If you enjoy writers like John Varley or books like Anne McCaffrey's Sassinak--both of which I read as a teenager—then this might be a good series to try out. This first book in the series is narrated by John Perry, who's 75 years old and just about to embark on his new life and new career—as an army grunt in the Colonial Defense Forces. It's some unspecified time in the future, far enough that humanity has entered space, but near enough that life on earth continues in a pretty similar manner to what we're used to. Except that, once you get old enough, it's an option to sign up to spend the last years of your life in the CDF, which is reputed to have the technology to make you more youthful again, though nobody really knows what you do once you get there, because nobody ever returns from the colonies. But John Perry's wife has died, and he's got nothing else he wants to do, so he's about to find out what it's all about.

His narrative voice is sharply witty, and as a character he's honorable but down-to-earth, which makes it easy to get absorbed in his story no matter how weird it gets. There's also a lot here about what it means to be human, on a physical as well as a philosophical level. It reminds me of (and here the geek comes out) Star Trek: The Next Generation at its best, with alien races competing for domination of the universe forming an action-packed backdrop for the character issues. "Hard SF" fans should definitely check it out.

September 23, 2009

Cybils, Kidlitcon, and Other News

If you haven't visited the Cybils website lately, check out the latest news, including introductions to the organizers, who's on what panels, and more--and you can even download a nifty logo to post on your blog. Nominations are open October 1 - 15 for books published between last year's contest and this year's contest, so don't forget to go nominate.

The Kidlitosphere Conference '09 in Washington, D.C. is coming up really quickly--are you registered yet? This unmissable annual gathering of children's and YA bloggers, independent reviewers, and online literacy advocates is scheduled for Saturday, October 17. Panel conversations, breakout sessions on social networking, a look at building a better blog, sessions on giving back to the community, and much more are on the docket. Though I can't go this year, I had a wonderful time last year and can't recommend it highly enough.

I was truly bummed to hear that Just One More Book is going on hiatus at least temporarily and perhaps for the long term. I don't have much to say that hasn't already been said by others in the comments, but I DO hope it's temporary. JOMB are the go-to guys for children's lit podcasts, and this is really a loss.

On a lighter note, I learned from the folks at tipped me off to a VERY cool initiative called The Comic Book Project, which is "an arts-based literacy and learning initiative hosted by the nonprofit Center for Educational Pathways with materials published by Dark Horse Comics. The goal of the project is to help children forge an alternative pathway to literacy by writing, designing, and publishing original comic books." Learning how to make comic books in school, as a learning tool--I love this idea so much, and kudos to those involved.

Lastly, hot off the press is Chasing Ray's latest post What a Girl Wants #7: Because We Are Not All Rich Girls. I'm going off to read it right now--don't miss it or the other installments in the series for some amazing insights from YA writers.

September 22, 2009

Turning Pages: History, Assumption and Mystery

Happy Tuesday! Time now for another jaunt through the world of What I've Been Reading:

In 1885, there are names for children born from husbandless women. Marianne has known the name and known the word all of her life, and borne the brunt of its cruelty. No matter what the village girls in Grimsby say, her mother loved her father, and the two had made promises. The Danish boy had said he would come back for her, and she'd held on to the promise, borne her baby alone, been turned out of her father's house with barely more than the clothes on her back. She and her daughter have eked out a living with embroidery and thrift, but in the end, it isn't enough. She is dying, and has only her dream left to give.

Just before her death, Marianne's mother shows her daughter the store of coins she has been hoarding to buy their passage to Denmark, in hopes of finding her lost love. There was never enough for both of them, but now, there will be well enough for Marianne alone. It's time for her to find her father.

Burdened with a letter for her erstwhile father, and by this new knowledge that her mother withheld money that could have eased her long illness, knowing nothing other than England and terrified of being alone in the world, Marianne nevertheless promises her mother that she will fulfill her final wish, leave the village, and set out for shores unknown. And when her mother dies, Marianne sets out alone on a search for her identity that takes her worlds away from England, to a ramshackle fishing village with a stern old man, a wily artist, needy children, kindly villagers, and a pair of young men who become more dear to her than she could have guessed.

This book was put out by Oxford University Press, and it's just not that often that you find YA novels from that a university publisher. However, this novel is so richly layered with historical detail about 19th century Denmark, the artisan villages of Skagen and Frederikshavn, and Danish life in the 1880's that it definitely rates that Oxford cachet. Marianne is stubborn and brave, and though there are few surprises, readers will give a sigh of satisfaction as she weathers the bumps and bruises of living on her own, and achieves her happily ever after.

But don't take my word for it, read the Guardian's review.

When Pakistan-born Halima's father moves the family to London, their whole world expands. Halima and her siblings make friends, and unlike their non-English speaking parents, are able to make their way in British society. For awhile, it seems that Halima can do anything. But a family secret is uncovered when she confides a budding crush to her older, married sister. Halima discovers that in return for a favor, when she was eight, her father arranged her marriage to the son of a stranger, who now works in Saudi Arabia. Halima is told she is owed to this man, and as the novel tagline repeats triumphantly, "It's Payback time."

I can't tell you how much I hate the title of this book. However, I believe that visceral reaction is deliberately provoked. Here's why: It's fairly significant that most of Western society has one fixed idea about women in Islamic culture. Because of the largely patriarchal society of most of Muslim countries, there is the assumption that all Muslim women are victims.

Rosemary Hayes uses an Irish character to act as a foil to Halima's understanding of the world. At every turn, Kate challenges Halima, as if without her Western understanding of the women's rights and the world, Halima just wouldn't "get it." Though Halima is characterized as brave, it's a bit sad to me that anyone else who loves her, including her mother, are characterized as powerless -- except if they're British. Once the specter of an arranged marriage is raised, Saudi Arabia and the full burqa are only a few steps off.

To read a book that doesn't play on Western fears of the Muslim world and fails to allow a handsome prince to save the say, read Does My Head Look Big In This? or Skunk Girl. While there's definitely good and bad in every religion or culture, when we don't understand something and prejudge it/write about it anyway, we're walking on thin, thin ice. It's really important, as a reader and a writer, to remember that old saw about what happens when people assume.

Initially I resisted picking them up. Georgette Heyer was a name I associated with long afternoons after church, sitting quietly and choking on Grace Livingston Hill novels given to me by a well-meaning auntie. I thought that Heyer wrote the particularly Moral and awful romances where a saintly, pious maid was handed her Happily Ever After and her Perfect and Bland Prince on a spotless polished platter when a Willful and Stubborn girl who had tried to take her own happiness in hand and find someone with actual blood in their veins was appropriately punished for her Waywardness and Wicked Deeds. Even when I was ten I knew there was something VERY WRONG with that scenario, thus I avoided Georgette Heyer -- whose name I had somehow mixed up with Grace Livingston Hill's -- like the plague.

Except Leila said she was such a good writer.

Leila isn't usually wrong about romances. Leila isn't usually wrong about mysteries. Leila is not usually wrong about historical fiction. Leila isn't usually wrong about anything bookish. Which kind of sucks, because there's nothing I like more than a good argument, but there you have it. Some people just aren't wrong.

So, when seeing a carelessly flung aside Heyer on a library shelf in the Crime section, I thought of Leila, and picked it up. It was published in 1953, which would at least be amusing, I thought.

It was a bit more than that.

And oh, the artless women, the scheming men. The snooty British disdain. The callow and American gangster-obsessed youth. The hilariousness. Oh, the snarky, well-written prose. Oh, the funny.

An unexpected surprise, the funny was.

This book has such a labyrinthine plot that I hardly want to tell you any of it, for fear that the way I tell it will give something away. Facts I can tell you are this: there was a very dull family party, to which a few business people were invited. During the course of the party, before the business persons took their leave, a venture was discussed. The person who would finance it turned it down as a bad risk.

When the guests were gone, the financier took his usual nightly walk in the fog, except this time he fell to his death. A shame, really, on the night of his 60th birthday. Well, accidents happen. Of course, not everyone thinks it was an accident...

You'll meet a reoccurring member of the Scotland yard, the exasperated Superintendent Hannasyde, as well as a razor-tongued old lady, a convenient thug, and manifold other Characters. Like the novel version of Clue, this book is a romp, and I can't wait to delve through various used bookstores and large-print library selections to find the rest of Heyers' mysteries.

So, that's what I've been reading lately. Good times. You can find Between Two Seas, as well as They Found Him Dead, and, after November, 2009, Payback from an independent bookstore near you.

September 18, 2009

Mid-September Reading Roundup: Origami, Trees, and Anger

1001 Cranes by Naomi Hirahara is one I had on my library request list recently, a middle-grade/younger YA story that focuses on themes of family--both growing closer to and apart from, on growing up Japanese-American in California, and on opening oneself up to friendship in unexpected places. Twelve-year-old Angie was named by her radical hippie parents after Angela Davis, but those same parents aren't getting along so well right now, and so they're leaving Angie with her Gramps, Grandma Michi, and Aunt Janet down in Gardena for the summer.

Angie's always been told not to monku, or complain, but spending a summer helping her grandmother with folding paper crane displays for special events isn't her idea of a fun summer, especially when she can't meet her grandmother's exacting standards and feels like she can't manage to say or do anything right--even the people she tries to make friends with don't seem to be good enough. This isn't an easy novel to describe in just a few words, but fundamentally, the story is about crossing bridges, about learning to reach out to people and truly try to understand them--whether they be family, friends, or even relative strangers--and know that the surface isn't the whole story.

Ann Brashares' Sisterhood books are sort of a guilty pleasure for me, so I kind of sheepishly grabbed her latest book, 3 Willows: The Sisterhood Grows, off the new YA shelf at my library. Like the Sisterhood books, this one follows the intertwining stories of three young women over the course of a summer, all of whom will be starting high school in the fall. But unlike the Sisterhood books, they aren't inseparable; they aren't united by an almost-magical bond. In fact, though they used to be friends, they aren't close now. And the summer doesn't look like it's going to change that.

Ama's going away to wilderness camp, appalled and angry that she didn't get chosen for the academic program she wanted, uncomfortable with the other teenagers there, and convinced there was some kind of mistake. Jo is going with her mother to her parents' beach house to work a summer job busing tables at a boardwalk restaurant, but when she gets involved with a cute older boy, the situation starts to get out of hand. Polly, meanwhile, feels lonely and abandoned. She decides to take matters into her own hands and make some changes in her life, changes that will make her just as exciting and grown-up as everyone else. Brashares has a knack for creating distinctive and memorable characters, and I got exactly what I wanted out of this book--three intertwining stories not only of friendship but of finding one's personal inner strength despite what may seem like long odds. I guess I'm a sucker for a good strength-through-adversity story.

Speaking of three stories, Angry Management by Chris Crutcher is literally that--three stories, all involving characters from his other novels. They're loosely connected by a frame story in which all the characters have been placed in an anger management group, but I didn't really need that part, to be honest (and actually, it seemed a little goofy to me, I'm sorry to say). It was the short stories--or novellas, maybe--themselves that were the main attraction.

I actually don't know what to say about these, they're so good. I don't want to risk ruining them by summarizing, but I will say that they deal with not just anger but every other gripping theme under the sun--reluctant friendships that teach you something unexpected, learning to survive abuse and abandonment, facing down injustice even in your own family, the horrific ramifications of small-mindedness and prejudice. Race, gender, sexuality--Crutcher doesn't shy away from any of it. All I can say is, read it.

September 17, 2009

Thursday Twitter-tacular

An enormous number of fantastic links have appeared in my Twitter feed this morning, so I thought I'd share them here. I was going to post a couple of reviews, but I guess that'll wait until tomorrow!

Firstly, via Jen Robinson, Laini Taylor's newest Dreamdark novel, Silksinger, is scheduled for publication today. Hooray, Laini!

Mitali talks about the importance of books mirroring one's own experience as critical to self-acceptance while growing up, and to increased self-knowledge as an adult.

Have you seen Afrogeek Mom and Dad?? Today they post about teaching comics in a college class. How cool are these guys? (And how much do I want to take that class???) (Thanks to Susan at Chicken Spaghetti for the link!)

Via the Neil-man himself, a new short story contest--alas, only for already-published writers in the UK and Ireland, but get a load of the judging slate!! Nick Hornby? A.S. Byatt? Hanif Kureishi?? Holy Jebus.

Lastly, a little bit of fun thinking back to the good old days when my mom read aloud to me...over at Booklights, Mother Reader talks about favorite read-aloud chapter books, and invites you to post about your faves, too.

Back tomorrow with reviews!

"Sitting at the Popular Kids' Table"

I read kids' booksWow, have I heard that phrase a few times this week!
Here and now I think I should say: I've never been a popular kid. (Can't say for sure about Aquafortis; but I think she was at least approachable, if still popular...) You can still come and sit with us in the kidlitosphere cafeteria. We don't throw food.

Well, not too often.

"If you really want to promote your books most effectively then you have to become part of the blogosphere, plain and simple. You have to spend the time to cultivate a readership which means regular posts on interesting topics."
Chasing Ray writes this week a nice letter welcoming authors to the kidlitosphere table, and explaining a few things about blog tours. Authors unsure about blog tours and under pressure from publicists to have one, please read; it's just a few simple rules for success.

Linda Joy @ The Spectacle points us to a recent great article from Strange Horizons YA SFF blogger Karen Healey, reporting on the Melbourne Writer's Festival. The panel titled, "Taking Over The Grown-ups Table" made me wince a bit, but Karen's fresh-breath-of-air perspective on the lovely collusion of young adult and speculative fiction was great. Here's a snippet from her column, which she writes to for "criticism, examination, and, most definitely, celebration" of YA speculative fiction:

"Speculative works aimed at young people don't just dominate young adult literature sales; they dominate fiction sales. The Harry Potter series famously prompted the split of the New York Times bestseller lists into Adult and Children's, and then further split Children's into "series" and "individual" titles. The Twilight saga took four of the top ten positions in most bestseller lists last year, and Stephenie Meyer actually made book tours cool, speaking to lecture halls packed with teenage fans.

SF fandom isn't graying. SF fandom is young. It's writing fanfic, climbing into cosplay, and getting favourite characters and quotes tattooed on its unwrinkled skin. It may come to regret the last, but the sincerity of that devotion cannot be doubted.

YA speculative fiction isn't going anywhere. Hopefully some adult SFF lovers will come over to the Dark Side and join us. Or the kids' table. Or wherever the heck we are.

The ever-awesome Debbie Ridpath Ohi blogs, cartoons at twitters

September 16, 2009

Bits & Pieces

Glasgow Uni D 496September kicks off Hispanic Heritage Month. Celebrate with Paper Tigers!

Ooh! Pay attention, people! Jon Scalzi's Big Idea this week is YA author Megan Crewe, talking about her new book, GIVE UP THE GHOST. A twist on the "I See Dead People" thing, Megan's character sees dead people... and likes them better than the living. They don't bug her, don't shun her, don't gossip about her and participate in the other high-school human sacrifices. But... okay, really. Where is it going to get you in life, preferring the dead to the living? Check out what Megan has to say.

(Scalzi's previous day's post is also quite good. Read there reasons that AUTHORS ARE NOT PUT ON EARTH TO READ YOUR UNSOLICITED ARC's OR MANUSCRIPTS. You think I'm overreacting by typing in all caps? Think again.)

Fresh from her success with Graceling and her newest novel, Fire, Kristin Cashore joins readergirlz tonight at 6pm Pacific/9pm Eastern, for a live chat. Don't miss this chance to sharpen up your author interviewing skillz!

It's a bird! It's a plane! It's a Superhero! I'm enjoying the Gratz's DragonCon 2009 pictures way more than I should. I envy people who are good at sewing and can whip up a costume and participate in such divine madness every year. TOO cool. Maybe some year the Kidlitosphere Conference will have people come in children's lit costumes. No? Oh, well. It was just a thought. The Kidlitosphere World is cranked up to full steam, as we begin plans for the 2009 season of The Cybils. Visit the site to get a button! Coming soon: The Winter Blog Blast Tour! We anticipate interviewing some intriguing people here in November.

The Kidlitosphere Conference is on its way, October 17th. Grab some swag and find out what you can do to help.

In Book News: Color Online announces Paula Chase Hyman's blog tour for Flipping the Script,

There are THREE MORE DAYS 'til you can get your hands on a copy of Dreamdark,, the Silksinger sequel by Laini Taylor,

And Robin Brande's new YA novel, FAT CAT is due to be released in October, BUT, five lucky people can score their very own advanced reader's copies. Contest details to come soonest.

In honor of yesterday's release of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters Miss Rumphius points us to directions on to escape a giant octopus. Thank you, I needed extra fodder for the nightmares, Tricia.


September 15, 2009

"Purest stagecraft."

Congratulations, Sara Lewis Holmes for the lovely, shiny star from Booklist! No matter what anyone says, you're always a star to us -- it's just nice to have other people acknowledge that!


September 14, 2009

Some Things Are Just Creepy.

Friend is not a verb all the emails I got begging me to join Friendster. Like the idea of "Followers" on a Twitter account. (Do I WANT followers!? Need them?) Like the idea of "friending" someone. Really. It is NOT a verb.

Hat tip to Inky Girl: Diversions for Writers.

And Now, A Word From Our... Um... Sponsors.

A Google search of TBR will bring up the following:
Thornton Burns Recruitment
The Black Road
Technology Business Research (Inc.)
Tennessee Board of Regents

None of those is important. The Fifth definition is the one you want. TBR Tallboy.

You: Writer, hopeful or successful, tired of being a reader, tentatively moving toward being a writer...
TBR Tallboy: TBR Tallboy, a hip, low-tech, chapbook style fiction 'zine, successful after only one issue, filled with stories from atrociously talented writers, if I do say so myself.
You: Eagerly submitting, for fame and fortune, if not monetary compensation.
TBR Tallboy: DEADLINE: SEPTEMBER 30th, don't miss it.
You: Wishing to read TBR, Issue 1, holding up a fiver, eagerly waiting for the mail.

You & TBR Tallboy. It's a match.

That is all.

Two words for you:

Amish. Romances.


Hat tip to Gail at Original Content.

September 11, 2009

Turning Pages: Out of the Ashes

"...Didn't you feel it on that day? It was like everyone suddenly knew what mattered. Money didn't matter. Politics didn't matter. Tabloid news didn't matter. No -- compassion mattered. Calm mattered. Respect mattered. Did it really take something of this magnitude to make us realize this? Yeah, I guess so."

It's actually a bit of a black hole in my memory, what I was doing, that Tuesday. Of course, I found out well after the fact, as I was on a distant coast, and by the time I wakened from the autopilot of workout, breakfast, fixing lunch, and saying goodbye, I was through two loads of laundry, had the sliding glass door open, and was considering how hot it was going to get, and if I had time to go through all of the mail before I sat down to get writing. I mainly remember a moment of distant surprise when TechBoy called, moments after he'd left. I thought he'd forgotten his coffee.

"Turn on the TV. Something's happened."

There are moments that define us, moments we can point back to and say, Before about, and then, After. Sometimes there's such clarity that as the moments are happening we hear ourselves say, "This. Changes. Everything."

"The songs are wrong," Peter observes, caught, as he was, skipping study hall to be downtown at Tower Records right when it opens, hoping to get the new Dylan CD. He can no longer listen to his CD player, because none of the music seems right. There is no music deep enough for bewilderment and tragedy. There is no music to right the wrong of a confetti of office memos and business letters flying through the air, of the smell of death in the wind.

Claire, dutifully attending homeroom, slips away to the elementary school to retrieve her little brother. She holds hands with a fellow student as she crosses the street; Marisol, a girl she doesn't know well, is holding on. The connection seems important. There's smoke in the air, ambulances screaming by, and people shuffling silently, covered with ash.

Jasper, slightly hung over and grumpy, wakes up when it's all over, and watches the footage again and again and again, while answering hundreds of emails and a phone call from his parents in Korea that all ask the same thing, Are you all right? Please tell me you're okay.

Jasper was supposed to go out with this kid, Peter, he met at a party, but now he's not sure. Should dating go on? Should concerts? Can people still joke?

Claire and Peter, Jasper and Claire, Peter and Jasper circle each other in an awkward dance of friendship and in sometimes painful and sometimes profound attempts to find expression and comfort in each other and to make sense of what has happened to their city and in their world. They share their stories, their fears, their worries.

Love is the Higher Law is a difficult book to read - I had to set it down, because it was written so well, and the memories were visceral. The novel doesn't follow the usual story arc - there's a detached, almost dreamily elegiac quality to some of the chapters, which exchange voices between the three young adult characters. As their world wrenches and rebounds, their shared reactions are both completely alike, and wildly divergent.

David Levithan is a New Yorker whose own impressions of that bewildering, horrifying, terrifying day are reflected in these pages. Few readers, teens and adults alike, will be able to experience this novel without remembering their own story -- where they were that day, what they did. In a way, our voices are as important to the narrative as are the voices of the characters. As we read the novel and remember who we were then, we remember what mattered, and how goodness can be forged in the fire of trauma and loss.

The memorial was raised to remind us that no matter how often we return to the grief of that day, we also return to the memory of hands reaching out to light candles, bring food and water, and search for the lost. In the midst of tragedy, we remembered how to step out of ourselves and become better than we were, proving the law of love, which makes us more than we are.

David Levithan's Love is the Higher Law is a journey through loss and hope, and can be found at an indie near you.

September 10, 2009

Kidlitosphere Conference Meme

Jen tagged me for this meme, which originates from the fabulous, Kidlitosphere-conference-organizing MotherReader. How could I resist? Participating will help me feel a little like I'm not missing all the fun this year at the Third Annual Conference, although I can't exactly complain about being on vacation for a month. (And yes, I promise to post pictures!)

Read on to find out why--from my perspective, anyway--the conference was so awesome.

Why did you decide to attend the KidLitosphere Conference?

I'd been so bummed that I couldn't make the first annual conference, so I was practically jumping up and down to find out that the second one would be held so close to my neck to the woods that I had no excuse not to go. It had been such a cool experience to meet fellow bloggers Little Willow, Kelly Herold, Sara Lewis Holmes, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Kelly Fineman and Greg Pincus (among others--sorry if I forgot anyone!) at the Los Angeles SCBWI conference the year before--and Farida and Jackie during a random trip to visit friends in Seattle--that I was really eager to meet some of my other friends from the virtual world. It's been such a pleasure to put names to faces.

Who was most like their blog? Who was least like their blog? This is a tough one to give particulars on! What really struck me, though, was how much I felt like I knew people already--more about that in question 4, but I don't know that anybody seemed particularly unlike their blog. Having said that, Greg, Pam, and Jen seemed to be a lot like their blogs. Based on her blog, I expected to be a lot more intimidated by Colleen, but it felt like we'd known each other forever.

What surprised you at the conference? It was surprising how easy it was to fall into an in-person rapport with people, even bloggers with whom I wasn't familiar. It was enough to know and enjoy the same blogs or books, to be able to talk children's and YA lit and have a set of interests already in common. The quality of the panels and our general high level of organization as a group, even spontaneous organization, was impressive. And the extent to which we were all sort of equalized as bloggers, whether we were unpublished or published authors, illustrators, teachers, librarians, parents, or some combination of those things.

What will you always remember about the last conference? So memorable were the lunchtime, dinner, and other casual conversations with some lovely groups and individuals. There was the "lunch meeting" to talk about the Cybils and other group activities, with Jen, Pam, Colleen, Anastasia, Jackie, and Philip Lee. (I may have missed someone; if so, sorry!) Somehow I kept ending up at breakfast with Greg, and then soon we'd be joined in ones and twos by others filtering into the lounge area; that's how I got to talking to Mark Blevis and Lee Wind. During the evening Readergirlz reception in the lounge, I had some lovely conversations with Lorie Ann Grover, Holly Cupala, fellow Mills alum Dia Calhoun, Bridget Zinn, Laini Taylor and her husband Jim DeBartolo, Johanna Wright, April Henry, Betsy Bird and her zombie sock puppets...I talked late into the night (sort of) with Jen and her husband, with Farida and with Adrienne, who was another person who felt like a kindred soul. I'll also never forget how I was the only person at my dinner table who didn't win anything in the raffle, and so Farida gave me her copy of Long Live the Queen, which she'd read and I hadn't. I honestly just met so many lovely folks that I cannot list them all. I felt like I'd found my people!

Did you blog about the conference? Yes, I did, complete with photos and doodles: Part I, Part II, and Part III include some fun details and highlights that I haven't touched on here.

I'm truly at a loss to figure out who to tag who hasn't probably already been let's just say that if you're reading this, and you haven't done this meme yet, you're it! I hope to reunite with many of you at the 2010 conference, if I can go.

September 09, 2009

Turning Pages: A Wide World - babies, hijabs & gender

Time now for another book recap, filling you in on what all I've been reading lately. Between working on my own stories, taking part in Writers Against Racism (along with tons of YA and children's lit illustrators and literati including Mitali Perkins, recent Vermont MFA graduate Varian Johnson, and author David Yoo), and trying to figure out how to dye the upholstery covers on my chairs (now instead of chicken-doo green, a vibrant rose and ...goldfish orange. Not quite what I had in mind -- the rose was supposed to be deep fuchsia, but I had more fabric than dye -- but what the heck, they're both on the color wheel, somewhere.), there have been BOOKS. And they've been goose-bumpingly, tear-inducingly great.

The book that arrived just this week was squeal-worthy for a number of reasons, and not just because the gorgeous author (is it the eyes? The blouse? The combination? A stunning woman, whatever your conclusion, no?) is a dear friend and Poetry Princess. Recently profiled at both the 7-Imps and with one of Jama's joy-inspiring soups, All the World is simply indescribable.

I write young adult fiction, so it's sometimes hard to talk about picture books. They're ...short. There's not this huge story arc that could be misconstrued as plot. Often, the characters don't even have names.

But picture books are vehicles. In the driver's seat is a small and unnamed You, and though the world is big, the readers are small, and the smallest stories can have a big impact. The theme of this book is connection, or indirectly, the commonality of human experience. Subtle inclusion is easily seen as brown, tan, and peach colored characters, traditional couples as well as some men with men, some women with women, are paired in groups or couples or with children, populating this gloriously illustrated landscape of beach and hills on a beautiful sun-drenched day. This is the world I know and love, a world I would want a child to know.

All the World is a parent and child two-step across hills, to the beach, and through the garden. Held close to the heart, with loving words surrounding us, we acknowledge the parts and places that make up all the world, including the rollicking sunlight, the love and the joy, the spills and the cold rain. Like the patented bouncy walk that soothes babies and is second nature to parents, this book waltzes and rocks, bounces and spins, and takes us all, beautifully, faithfully, home again, with hope and peace and love and trust.

A picture book, filled with true, deep words, and a lot of amazing pictures; even the cover is a deliciously tactile experience. It's hard to articulate, but it such a beautiful, heartfelt, astonishingly moving book, and I still can't even quite tell you why. Just know: if you're a Book Aunt like me, this is a keeper. But don't take my word for it! Check out the review from Through the Looking Glass.

I won't go into too much plot detail of Randa Abdel-Fattah's Does My Head Look Big In This? - mainly because it's not the plot that makes the novel work. It's a single thing that happens in the beginning of the novel that has its greatest impact -- a choice.

Amal, at sixteen, suddenly has The Moment when she knows what she wants to do to show her devotion to God, and her determination to live by the tenants of Islam, as she understands them. She chooses to wear the hijab full time. What others do to show their devotion and determination is of no consequence, the novel makes it VERY clear that these kinds of choices are personal. This is what Amal has chosen to do, with no bearing on anyone else, not even her parents.

That The Moment happens when Amal is watching a Friends rerun is hilarious, to say the least, but everything plays its part when you're thinking about your life. Suffice it to say that Amal's momentous decision has repercussions in all parts of her world. In some ways, wearing the hijab is The Best Thing, Ever. And in other ways... when the word "Muslim" on the radio is always paired up with the word "Insurgents," or "bombing," when she gets funny looks from her peers and even her teachers are skittish, it seems like it Really Sucks.

Living with the choices we make is never easy, any YA book can tell you that.

There are Loaners and Owners in the bookworld, and this book is an Owner, as in, it owns a part of me, and I need to own it. Even though I just read the book, I find myself wanting to read it again. I want to make sure I know the difference between Islam and Muslim, and how and when to use each word. I want to know how to pin on a hijab, and think of different ways accessorize one. I want to immerse myself in Amal's Aussie-Arabic-Muslim world where taking your faith seriously means something different to each person, and where friends can respect each other's choices. Now, here's a scary fact: I actually wish I was back teaching, because you know I'd be teaching this book for English 10, it is THAT good. Painful, funny, bravery-inspiring, and a spiritual experience in its own way, Does My Head Look Big in This opened up my world.

But don't take my word for it. Read Allison's excellent review at Color Online.

Karen Haber's Crossing Infinity was a random I'm-out-the-door library pick, but I'm glad I picked it up. Science Fiction answers the question of "What If" in so many creative ways, and this book questions what many people think of as a sure thing -- gender identity.

Jaz has a lot going on at home, and way more homework than she wants to deal with, so it's a sure bet that she's going to blow all of that off to concentrate on something else. Someone else, to be specific. The new guy, Cory, is cute, but... so weird. He acts like he's an international student, but not from any country Jaz has ever known. He's obviously lonely, and Jaz has just the cure for that, but she can't figure him out. Meanwhile, Cory's in trouble -- serious trouble. It's not working out to fit in to being human as easily as he'd thought it would. For one thing, boys and girls act differently -- and there are different rules for each. It's vital that Cory be exactly like everyone expects him to be, and nothing else. It's the only way to blend in to a high school. Unfortunately, Cory doesn't have time to learn all the rules when his planet's species survival is in his hands. He thought he'd escaped the past, but those who destroyed his family are looking to destroy him, too.

The gender issues aren't deeply explored, and there was a somewhat unrealistic skimming over the fears and questions Jaz has as she discovers that Cory is not what he seems. I expected Jaz to at least wonder about herself a bit more, as she sought to love someone who couldn't be held to one gender. However, I did appreciate the open-endedness of the question of "what if we could change genders at will?" There was no right or wrong answer to the question, more of an exploration, through story, of the possibilities, which makes for the best SFF.

You know there are always people paring books and toys, but Mitali's doing one better for those Back To School gift ideas. You MUST check out her post on pairing books with Fair Trade toys. She found a brown mermaid doll to pair with a story on Haiti. How cool is that!? I've never even SEEN a non-Eurocentric looking mermaid, and I wish I could have found it oh, some sixteen years ago when my niece was all about The Little Mermaid. Now that she's in college, I still might have to get it for her.

As of today! You can find All the World, by Liz Garton Scanlon, Does My Head Look Big in This?, and Crossing Infinity at an indie bookstore near you.

September 07, 2009

Hey Everyone: Read This Book

Okay, maybe it wouldn't be up everyone's alley. But from a personal standpoint, I feel like I could turn to almost any page in Sheba Karim's debut novel Skunk Girl and find something that makes me want to simultaneously laugh and cry, something that seems oh-so-painfully-familiar from my own upbringing--even though, unlike Karim's protagonist Nina Khan, I only had to deal with a Pakistani Muslim dad, and even then only on selected weekends.

Nevertheless, my point is that there really isn't much (if any) teen literature out there that deals with the quirks of growing up as a Pakistani girl in America, with Muslim parents who are conservative, even restrictive in some ways, but still close and loving. There really isn't a lot of authentic fiction covering that experience, or even a lot of fiction covering general issues that arise from growing up first-generation South Asian. And we need it, during a time that there are a lot of misconceptions arising from lumping together all the world's Muslims into the same negative category.

When you're a teenager, though, a lot of the social interactions and fashion conformism that gets taken for granted by most people are a source of major stress if you have Pakistani parents—clothes that seem innocuous and normal are suddenly immodest and off limits; parties or dances that everyone else can attend are frowned upon and totally out of the question. Forget about having a crush on someone, because you won't get to do anything about it--unless they also happen to be Pakistani and Muslim.

Add to that the increased probability of unwanted body hair, and you've got the story of Nina Khan's life. She's a junior in high school, sometime in the pre-9/11 days, trying to live up to her older college-aged sister's impossibly high example and trying to be a good daughter to her parents—but she was born in the tiny East Coast town of Deer Hook, and has very American sensibilities. Her two best friends, Bridget and Helena, understand her situation—more or less—but it's still hard to watch them go to parties and have boyfriends and do all the American teenager things that Nina's parents won't allow. And then, when handsome Asher Richelli moves to town, Nina finds herself in a tough spot, because Asher seems to like her, too.

It doesn't sound funny. But Nina's voice is so likeable, so self-effacing but hilarious, that you can't help but snicker. The chapter titles alone are priceless: League of the Supernerds, Wild African Ass, Next Stop: Street Hooker, Allah's Gift to the Earth. The "Pakistani prestige point system" was spot on (added points, of course, for being a doctor, lawyer, or engineer, just like my dad always said). The way Islam--everyday Islam, not fanatical news-report Islam—is portrayed is refreshing and authentic, and sure to be an eye-opener to many readers. And I recognized at every turn the issues faced by a first-generation Pakistani-American, whose way of looking at the world is fundamentally different from her parents, who were born overseas. This book covers a lot of meaningful cultural issues at the same time that it makes the reader laugh in recognition at the experiences that are common to every American teenager. I was a bit frustrated by the ending for a few different reasons, but overall I thought this book was truly well-written, fun, and also deep. I wish I'd had this to read as a young adult.

September 05, 2009

National Arts and Humanities Month, 'n' Stuff. GOOD Stuff.

If you're involved with Americans for the Arts, you might be aware that October is National Arts and Humanities Month--participate in "Creative Conversations," local film screenings, and other events in your area, or put together your own events. Check out the tool kit for ideas, including Ten Simple Ways Parents Can Get More Art in Their Kids’ Lives. Especially now, when times are difficult and many people are thinking of the arts as a luxury, let's remind people that it's a necessity.

Two awesome blog dudes, Gregory K and JOMB's Mark Blevis, have teamed up to produce four webcasts "designed to help publishers, editors, publicists, authors and illustrators better understand how to make the web work for them, and how to engage and collaborate with the Kidlit community." How cool is that, especially if you're a social media n00b or just intimidated by the array of options out there for promoting your work? The series, titled "How social media can help you sell books: Guidance for the book publishing industry and its stakeholders," and covers topics like searches, alerts, Twitter, interacting via social media, and more. (Much as I find all that stuff overwhelming and I've got my hands more than full with what I'm already doing, I probably need to know this stuff...)

If you haven't yet checked out Mother Reader's latest contribution to ForeWord Magazine's Shelf Space column, check it out--inspired by a listserv comment from author Laurel Snyder, Pam talks about buzz and hype for well-known books vs. lesser-known titles, and "the role of bloggers in highlighting the hidden-treasure books among the publicity-driven titles." It's a fascinating discussion, and if you ever wondered what a Whizzlefart is, you won't want to miss it. (Ha! Made you click!)

I also heard via the Kidlitosphere listserv that another children's literature listserv, CCBC-Net, is going to be discussing crossover titles during the second half of September, so if you're a fan of Kelly H's Crossover blog, you might want to sign up for the discussion. (I'm kind of at my listserv max at the moment, tempting as it sounds.)

A few things I ran across on Twitter and elsewhere: Colleen recently wrote a post for Crossed Genres magazine about the history of Guys Lit Wire. My friend who is also named Sarah is running a Catching Fire giveaway at her group blog, Alert Nerd, so if you want to win a copy of the book, a t-shirt, and a collectible pin, go enter sometime in the next few weeks. Via Jen Robinson, I found out that California's Folsom-Cordova School District is closing all 28 of its K-12 libraries, which is truly tragic. And lastly, via Holly Cupala and also BoingBoing, comes a WSJ article about cheating on your literary books with YA fiction. I say we should all be loud and proud!

Last but not least, HAPPY BOOK BIRTHDAY to Sara Lewis Holmes' newest, Operation Yes!!