Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Bluest Eye - Happy Anniversary

Claudia from The Bottom of Heaven asked if I wanted to participate in Blogger's roundtable for Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, to celebrate its 40 anniversary. There was only one answer I could give YES*. First Happy Anniversary to the Bluest Eye. And thank you Claudia for asking me to participate.

The first time I read The Bluest Eye I was 13 or 14 yrs old. I feel very lucky to have discovered Morrison so early. I missed Mildred Taylor, the same thing could've easily happened with Morrison. The Bluest Eye wasn't school reading, though I do recall my 9th grade English teacher, giving me a list of authors right before the beginning of summer. I am pretty sure Morrison's name was on the list. At the time I was reading a lot of genre fiction books by Stephen King or Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris. I was just discovering Black authors. Sure I read James Baldwin, Richard Wright even Donald Goines, but it was the ladies who had me.

Of course alot of The Bluest Eye, was over my head the first time I read it. Though that didn't matter since Morrison's characters and language felt familiar.

Forty years later I will always be thankful for Morrison's first novel. The Bluest Eye opened literary doors for many Black female authors.

Without it I may never of had the chance to read Tina McElroy Ansa, Toni Cade Bambara, Gaylor Naylor, Ntozake Shange, Alice Walker and all the other Black female authors whose stories speak to me like genre fiction never will.
There were a few topics, we could've tackled for this roundtable. I choose - Humanizing Cholly Breedlove: Vilified? Redeemed? How did you respond to this character or how might we read him today?

The first time through Cholly Breedlove was evil. Any man who would hit his wife, set his house of fire and rape is daughter couldn't be anything but evil. Years later when I reread The Bluest Eye, I payed closer attention and noticed there was more to Cholly. I felt compassion towards him.

This was the first time I had to reevaluate my perception towards a particular character after rereading a novel. So I decided to take an even closer look at Cholly.

Cholly Breedlove is Pecola's father. Pecola is the little girl who dreams and wishes for blue eyes. With blue eyes Pecola believes she will be beautiful and loved. Breedlove's are poor and ugly. One is bad but both is unforgivable.

Before Cholly becomes half of a marriage that thrives on conflict, he is a man with potential. Cholly almost lost his chance at being anything. When he was four years old his mother placed him on a junk railroad. He was saved by his great aunt Jimmy.

Cholly's aunt raised him until he was 14yrs old. When she's dies, Cholly ran away to find his father. His aunt took care of him but there was no love. Cholly's went searching for a male roll model and someone to love him.
Many young men and women would've been disillusioned to the idea of love if they hadn't already experienced it by the time they were teenagers. But Cholly still believed in love and wasn't afraid seek it out. Since he wanted it so badly, I believe Cholly could've easily returned love properly if he knew how.

There isn't much interaction between Cholly and Pecola until the very end, since he doesn't know how to be a father. Though when one looks closely, its easy to see, if given the chance Cholly would've tried to learn how.

"One winter Pauline discovered she was pregnant. When she told Cholly, he surprised her by being pleased. He began to drink less and come home more often. They eased back into a relationship more like the early days of their marriage." (p121)

The first time I read the scene where Cholly raped Pecola, it was an act of violence with no redemption. The next time my heart went out for Cholly as well. He is a Black man who must admit he failed to protect his daughter from a world that more than willingly to destroy her.

"Her back hunched that way, her head to one side as though crouching from a permanent and unrelieved blow. Why did she have to look so whipped? She was a child - unburdened- why wasn't she happy? The clear statement of her misery was an accusation. He wanted to break her neck - but tenderly. Guilt and impotence rose in a bilious duet. (p161)

It must have been hard for Cholly to face his family knowing (or feeling as if) he failed them, especially Pecola. Daughters are supposed to be protected. Cholly wondered what he could give his daughter, this makes me believe, if Cholly had anything to give he would.

What could he do for her ever? What give her? What could a burned out Black man say to the hunched back of his eleven year old daughter? If he looked into her face, he would see those haunted, loving eyes. The hauntedness would irriate him the love would move him to fury. How dare she love him? Hadn't she any sense at all? What was he supposed to do about that? Return it? How? What could his colloused hands produce to make her smile? What of his knowledge of the world and of life could be useful to her? What could his heavy arms and befuddled brain accomplish that would earn him his own respect, that would in return allow him to accept her love?

Cholly was as much a victim as Pecola. Everytime I read The Bluest Eye, I see Cholly clearer. There's little boy who almost never was, the boy who went unloved, the young man who had his first sexual experience ruined by two White men, the young man who was dismissed by the father he never knew, and a man who never learned how to love.

*This is also up at The Color Online blog

Sunday, June 27, 2010

LBGT YA novels W/ Characters of Color

I haven't done a list in a while. After reading Nathalie's post about LBGT week (June 25 - July 4th, @ Mutliculturalism Rocks, I decided to list a few YA novel that feature gay and lesbian characters of color.

Down to the Bone by Mayra Lazara Dole

Touching Snow by M. Sindy Felin

Say the Word by Jeannine Garsee

The Mariposa Club by Rigoberto Gonzalez

M+O 4EVR by Tonya Hegamin

A Map of Home by Randa Jarrar

My Most Excellent Year: by Steve Kluger

Love Is the Higher Law by David Levithan

Dramarama by E Lockhart

Fat Hoochie Prom Queen by Nico Medina

Ash by Malinda Lo

The Necessary Hunger by Nina Revoyr

Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood by Benjamin Alire Saenz

The God Box by Alex Sanchez

The It Chicks by Tia Williams

Love & Lies: Marisol's Story by Ellen Wittlinger

After Tupac and D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson

No Such Thing as the Real World: by Various Authors

Woodson's "The Company" is abouta Black gay male dancer in New York

Orphea Proud by Sharon Dennis Wyeth

There's good news and bad news with this list. The bad news, its small. The good news, its all quality. I find many of these titles gush worthy. If I started to talk about how much I loved one, I had have to say that about several others.

If you know of any other titles, please leave them in the comment box. I got three titles thanks to Ari's sidebar under the challenge that dare not speak its name

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Big Red Lollipop Rukhsana Khan - Sophie Blackwell

Big Red Lollipop by Rukhsana Khan and Sophie Blackall
Rubina very exicited, she been invited to her first birthday party. Rubina's mother doesn't understand the idea of birthday parties, its not something they celebrate in their culture. Rubina must take her younger sister Sana to the party. Rubina is very embrassed to show up with her sister. Sana cries during musical chairs. When the party is over everyone gets a little gift bag, that has a big red lollipop.

Sana's eats her's right away. Rubina saves and dreams about for big red lollipop. The next day Rubina discovers that Sana's has eaten all but a small triangle of the lolliop. Rubina is very upset, she chases Sana around the house. Sana runs behind their, Ami. Being the older sister Rubina must be the bigger person.

Soon, Sana's turn comes. She's invited to her first birthday party. Ami, says she must take her younger sister Maryam. Sana, begs and pleads but it doesn't work. Rubina could sit back, and say nothing but she speaks up for Sana. Rubina tells their Ami not to make Sana take Maryam to the party. When Sana comes back from the party she gives Rubina a lollipop as a thank you.

I loved Big Red Lollipop. Khan's makes you feel for Rubina, the oldest of three sisters.
"Sana runs to the fridge and brings back the triangle stuck to the stick. "Look"! I didn't eat all of your lollipop I left the triangle for you!"

See? says Ami. " She didn't eat all of it. She's sharing with you! Go ahead. Take the Triangle." So I have to take it.

Khan's text and Blackwell's illustrations are a perfect match, I love both equally. The families culture can be seen in the text and illustrations. Sophie Blackwell is most known for illustrating the best selling Ivy&Bean series. This is one of my favorite picture books of the year. Ages 4 up

Another blog review @ Kids Lit
A few professional (starred) reviews via author's site

Friday, June 25, 2010

koyal dark, mango sweet Kashmira Sheth

Koyal Dark, Mango Sweet by Kashmira Sheth
Set in contemporary Mumbai, India, 16 yr old Jeeta is the youngest girl of three. Jeeta parents are traditional and believe in finding the right husband for their daughter. Jeeta's knows once her sisters Nimitia and Mohini are married, it will be her turn.

I loved Jeeta. She's a smart, independent thinker. Jeeta also did her best not to let being called too dark skinned get to her. Jeeta has a close relationship with her sisters, especially Mohini. Sheth avoids drawing the parents as villains. They are well rounded characters, that aren't defined by this act of tradition. Its easy to see how much Jeeta's parents love their children.

Jeeta falls for Neel, a boy she never expected to see again but does. Jeeta doesn't know what to do but she can't tell her parents. They wouldn't approve especially her mother. Jeeta must find a way to get her parents to understand she is not ready to get married yet.

This is a wonderfully told story. Sheth's writing grab me from the beginning. I highly recommend this one, especially for fans of The Secret Keeper by Mitali Perkins

read an excerpt

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Interview with Renee Watson & Shadra Strickland

One of the many books I was looking forward to reading this year was A Place Where Hurricanes Happen It was definitely worth the wait. My review

In honor of its release author Renee Watson and illustrator Shadra Strickland were both kind enough to answer some questions.

A Place Where Hurriances Happen is Watson's debut though only by a few weeks. She has a middle grade novel called What Momma Left Me coming out in July. This is Strickland's second solo project. For her first Bird by Zetta Elliott, Strickland won the Coretta Scott King John Steptoe award for new talent. She is the first female illustrator to win this award. Strickland also won Ezra Jack Keats illustrator award.

Hello ladies congratulations on a wonderful picture book. Can you please tell please us a little about yourself?

Watson I grew up in Portland, Oregon and have always participated in the arts. Growing up I sang in my church’s choir, I acted in school plays, and wrote for the school newspaper and literary magazine. I currently live in New York City. When I’m not writing, I am working as a teaching artist in public schools.

Strickland I finished Syracuse University and earned my MFA at SVA. After grad school I worked part time as a designer at a major publishing house. I currently live and work in Atlanta, GA (my hometown) after being in New York for six years. I am currently illustrating full time but do hope to teach again in the future. Random facts: I love bowling, dancing, reading and spending time with my family and friends.

Renee, What exactly is a teaching artist?
It’s the same as being an artist-in-residence. I work for a non-profit organization, DreamYard. DreamYard hires professional artists—writers, dancers, musicians, performers, visual artists—and places us in public schools in the Bronx to provide yearlong workshops to students.

How do students react to visits from professional artist?
I get all kinds of reactions from students when I first come to their classroom. Some are thrilled and some are not. But for the most part, by the end, students have grown and tried new things. I try to use the arts to encourage young people to see their world and respond to it in a creative way. This is empowering for students and so by the end of a residency many of them have found a new way to express themselves and those who were already expressing themselves and exploring the arts leave with new skills and techniques to fine-tune their raw talent.

This past year, it was very exciting for me to be in the classroom because I was able to bring in excerpts from the book and share it with my middle school students at MS 390. They were able to learn how a picture book goes from being a typed document on my computer to a hard cover, illustrated book. My students got to see the black and white pencil sketches, the f&g, and finally, the hard cover book. I think having me in their class demystified what it means to be a professional artist.
Did you write this story during or in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina? Or did you need some distance from the tragedy before you put words to paper?

I went to New Orleans in 2006, a year after Katrina, to work with children coping with coping with the aftermath. After leaving New Orleans, I wrote in my journal a lot about my experience, but I didn’t start writing the book until about five months after I returned. Their stories stayed with me and I wanted to honor their voices, celebrate their resilience.

A Place Where Hurricanes Happen is a very fitting title. Since this story is about four friends who live on the same New Orleans street. As bad as the Katrina is it doesn't define them.

Was the focus on the friends rather than the hurricane a conscious decision?

I ask this because while watching the news coverage of Katrina , sometimes I got the feeling that the Black people of New Orleans were looked upon as different. A Place Where Hurricanes Happen is testimony that all kids are the same no matter their ethnic or religious background or where they live.

Focusing on the friends and their everyday life was definitely a deliberate decision. My hope is that this book touches children from all walks of life who maybe haven’t lived through a natural disaster, but have had to move and start a new school, or has a favorite thing they do with their mom or a friend, or who’ve lost a grandparent and need to find someone else who shares their story. Though the book is first and foremost for New Orleans, it is also for children everywhere and above all, about overcoming hardships and having pride in where you’re from.

They definitely have pride in neighborhood. There is also a great sense of community. The book got a great blurb from Caroline Kennedy. How did you react when you found out?

Once I knew Caroline Kennedy was reading the book and might offer a blurb, I was nervous. At that time, besides my close friends and the editorial team at Random House, I hadn’t shared the book with anyone so it was one of those moments of knowing my work is out there in the world, being read, being critiqued—and hopefully enjoyed. Once I received her blurb, of course, I was extremely honored.

Since this is a picture book debut, I thought it would be nice to allow one question from an aspiring picture book author. So the next question comes from Jeannine.

When writing about a heavy topic like hurricanes, how do you find the balance of telling what happens and also being mindful of the age group you are writing for?

I just keep trying to see everything through a child's prespective. I read section out loud over and over to hear the voices of the characters to make sure the language was stated in a way a child would say it. I also made it a point to balance out the sadness by starting and ending with joy.

Can you tell us a little about working with children dealing with the aftermath of hurricane Katrina?

The organization, Sani Anyanwu, held an arts camp every summer. After Katrina, the director of the program wanted to use the arts to help students process what they had been through. A year later, wounds were still very fresh.

Using the arts as the vehicle to get students talking was powerful. Poetry and theater provides an outlet for young people to express themselves and process what they’re going through. And for children of color who seldom go to therapy for any of the traumas they experience, the arts provide a safe space for them to heal.

In our workshops, students not only processed what they loss, but they celebrated their rich culture. It was a time for children to vent their anger, ask their questions, mourn their loss, and celebrate home.

What did you think when you found out Shadra was the selected artist?

I was so excited to collaborate with Shadra! When my editor told me they would be approaching her, I think I told everyone I knew to pray that she’d say yes. Shadra did you get to see Renee's story in its entirely before you sent sample illustrations?
I wasn't asked to submit samples for the story which is great because I need to sit with a story first and work on it as a whole rather than piece by piece. The editor and art director asked me to contribute to this project after seeing the work I did for Bird

Ironically, I wanted to work on a story that paid tribute to the people of New Orleans (specifically after Katrina). I tried writing something of my own before the project came along, but nothing was working out. Serendipity smiled on me and Renée's story landed in my lap.

How long did it take you to visualize the four friends?

It didn't take long at all to visualize the friends. The beauty of Renée's story is that each character has a very distinct voice and personality. They were all pretty easy to see in my head. When I looked for models, I was lucky enough to find children whose personality's felt really similar to what I was able to capture in my thumbnail sketches.

Where do you find models?

I used to teach and am still really good friends with people who work in schools. Often times when I am on a school visit I am also scouting models. Most times I am lucky enough to work with children and parents who are excited about books and seeing themselves in the pages.

Sometimes I make characters up. My goal, even when using models is to capture the "feeling" of a character. I build characters through their gestures and expressions so it's never about copying directly from a photo, the key for me is to capture the essence and feeling of the characters I illustrate.

How do you decide what medium to use for a particular story?

I choose mediums based on the feeling I get from the story. I usually paint in watercolor and gouache, but depending on where the story takes me different things get dropped in. In BIRD, Mehkai's drawing's were a part of his world, so it made sense to me that I juxtapose watercolor with ball point pen against a charcoal city setting.

Hurricanes were a lot trickier because it was more straightforward (if that makes any sense). The paintings were all done in watercolor and gouache. I had to rely much more on color and composition but still think about each character's voice and how to keep them separate but make them all work together homogeneously.

I did get to experiment a little with crayon and saran wrap in the storm pieces which was a real treat, and in the scene where Keesha is cooking with her mom, I used soap bubbles and watercolor to show the energy of spicy jambalaya.

The jambalaya looked good enough to eat. I thought the storm came out very well. One of the things I love and appreciate about art (in any form) is catching the small moments and details.

Illustration for me is very much about capturing those universal magic moments in everyday life. In A Place Where Hurricanes it was so important to try and show each character's individuality in their solo moments throughout the book. From our introduction of the four in the opening spread, their gestures speak volumes to who I felt these kids were in the world (I hope ;-)). We hear their voices in all of Renée's words, and it was important to me to match those voices in the illustrations.

My next book is much more playful and in turn I will play with collage and watercolor.

This is a very good pairing. The text and illustrations have that much more of an impact, together. I love collage. What is the name of your next project?

I am working on many things at once these days which is a blessing and a huge responsibility. The project that I am wrapping up now is called White Water and is due out with Candlewick next year.

The collage project that I am working now is called Sunday Shopping and is with Lee and Low. I'm really excited to switch things up visually and add more to my visual vocabulary.

Were you able to take a trip to New Orleans?

Yes. New Orleans was the fifth character in the book. I had never visited prior to the project and knew that in order to do this story justice I would have to walk the streets of the city and talk to some of the people living there. If I hadn't actually seen, smelled, tasted, and listened to the city I don't think that the story would have been visually believable.

There are little things in the art that I just wouldn't have seen or paid attention to from internet research, like the mardi gras tree that ended the story, the distinct personality of the homes, the giant shady tree in the opening spread– I was walking down the street when I came across that tree and immediately thought, "that is totally where we will meet our characters".

Visiting the city personalized the story for me even more which helped me personalize the art as opposed to regurgitating images from the news.

Authors and illustrators don't always get a chance to meet even though they working on the same project. Did you two get to meet in person?

Watson - We emailed each other and have talked on the phone, but never met in person. We have plans to do a few joint events and I’m looking forward to that. The first time we spoke we had a love fest—telling each other our favorite parts of each other’s work. It’s been a blessing to work with Shadra

Strickland - Unfortunately I left NY before Renée and I met. We did have a phone date which went very well. We will meet this fall for the first time when we visit schools in New Orleans and share the work.

Renee your free verse is beautiful. One of my favorites - when Michael is with his younger sister during the hurricane. Shadra your depiction of Micheal and his younger sister Jasmine in that moment is powerful. Every time I look at the text and illustration on that page I am moved and amazed by it. Its gorgeous all around.

Do you think children respond more to text or illustration? Watson - I think it depends on the child which art form they will gravitate to. I believe that with a book like this, one that deals with such a heavy subject matter, the words and images are equally meaningful. The illustrations are poignant and are the first thing a child will see. The images alone are visual poetry and I’m sure many children will want to look at certain pages over and over. Some children can’t find the words to articulate their emotions or express what they’ve experienced, so reading the free verse can allow them to find words for their own story

Strickland - Thank you, that is one of my favorite illustrations. To answer your question, I hope they respond to both. Of course, a picture is more immediate than text. I think that if the images grab the reader they will be more inclined to study the text and gain more meaning from the work. But I also think it depends on the child. I'm a visual person so with picturebooks I do tend to read the art first. The goal though is to have the art and words work together.

For example, one of my all time favorite picturebooks is Come on Rain by Karen Hesse; illustrated by Jon J. Muth. The writing and watercolors are delicate, moody, sophisticated and look deceptively simple all at once. It's so wonderful to hear the characters speak through the text as well as the images. I love the book as a whole.

I am a big fan of Muth's. Next time I go to the library, I will look for Come On Rain. Renee has a great teacher's guide for A Place Where Hurricanes Happen on her site.

Do you think you two will incorporate the on going Gulf Oil Spill into the activities with the New Orleans students?

Watson - Shadra and I are still working out the details of what our workshops and activities will be when we go to New Orleans. I usually ask the school or host site what they would like me to cover, so my school visits vary depending on the school’s needs and interest.

Strickland - Uggggghhhh! This oil disaster is terrifying and frustrating! Because hurricanes deal with a very scary time in a lot of people's lives no doubt the kids will open up and talk about the things that are going on in their world that scare them. I won't be surprised if the oil spill comes up in conversation. I would love to hear their thoughts on how to stop the leak and what we can do in the future to avoid these types of crises.

Renee Watson will be doing her first book signing on June 24 @ A Children's Place Bookstore in Portland, Or - An autographed first edition debut would make a great gift

Shadra Strickland has released three limited edition prints from A Place Where Hurricane Happens they can be found at her etsy shop An autographed limited edition print would make a great gift as well

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Place Where Hurricanes Happen Renee Watson - Shadra Strickland

A Place Where Hurricanes Happen by Renee Watson illus. by Shadra Strickland
This is the story of four friends, Adrienne, Keesha, Micheal and Tommy, who live on the same New Orleans street.

I thought the first picture book that dealt with hurricane Katrina would focus on the hurricane. I am glad I was wrong, I like this much better.
The reader gets to know the four friends and their community before Katrina . The connection will stay long after the hurricane is gone, as the friends and their community are coming back together.

Waston's free verse is beautiful she makes the four friends as real as they can be. Strickland helps to bring the friends, the storm and New Orleans alive with her illustrations. Watson and Strickland have come together to create a lovely picture book.

Cars are turned upside down
and the street sign is floating in the water
Daddy tells us to get to the attic
as fast as we can
I take Jasmine's hand and I hold it tight.
like big brothers do.
She's too scared to look out the window
but I'm not

I look out the window
and I see the whole block swimming in water
Furniture, clothes and toys are swirling in the flood
Roofs are crumbling and windows are shattering
Big winds have come and trees are breaking
And all I can see is more water rising
So I look away and I squeeze Jasmine's hand
real tight because now I am scared too.

I probably should not have shared the whole verse, (but I love it) I also know the text without the illustrations is only half the story. You definitely want to see whole picture, its gorgeous and filled with emotion. This is one of those picture books, that I appreciate more each time I look at it. And I can't stop looking.

A Place Where Hurricane Happens comes out on June 22. Watson and Strickland were kind enough to answer a few questions about the book. I will be posting the interview on Tuesday, release day.

Also Watson will be doing her first booksigning on June 24 @ A Children's Place Bookstore in Portland, Or . So if you are thinking about getting the book, you may want to check them out.

A signed, first edition debut, would be very sweet indeed.

Three professional reviews via Strickland's blog

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Glimpse Carol Lynch Williams

Glimpse Carol Lynch Williams

"Just a year apart, the Chapman girls were as close as sisters could be. Hope could always count on Lizzie, and Lizzie could always count on Hope- always. But even sisters have secrets. Big secrets. And if Lizzie has her way, she'll take the biggest secret of all to her grave. With Lizzie in lockdown, can Hope discover the truth and save her sister, or is it already too late?"

The above is from the back cover. When I saw that the word secret appeared three times, I was like uh oh, this is going to be a tricky one to review. So I am sharing what's on the back to help set my parameters, in hopes of not revealing too much. to review.

Hope and Lizzie have always had and needed each other. Their dad died when they were very young and their mom is an alcoholic. Everything changes when Lizzie tries to kill herself and is hospitalized. Lizzie refuses to speak. Hope must figure out Lizzie's secret on her own, in order to save her.

Hope pays attentions like never before, adding up all the pieces. She dissects everything, going the way back to before their dad died.

Through Hope's memories, the reader gets to know the sisters and understand their bond. Williams goes for the slow reveal with the secrets and there are clues along the way. Its very well executed. Its takes Hope awhile to figure everything out, she's not blind to the truth, but she's only 13 yrs old. Hope has yet to face such an ugly truth and she has a hard time seeing it for what it is.

Gimpse can be read in one sitting, if you are emotionally reading for it. Its beautiful, sad and powerful novel written in verse. I don't read novels in verse often. When I read one as good as Glimpse, I always wonder why that is. This is one of my favorite realistic fiction novels of 2010. I highly recommand it for fans of Ellen Hopkins.

read an excerpt

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Shooting Kabul N.H. Senzai

Shooting Kabul by N. H. Senzai
12 yr old Fadi and his family must leave their home in Kabul for the United States. With the ongoing war, Afghanistan is no longer safe and Fadi's mother needs medical attention. The family, Fadi's parents and two sisters. Noor is the oldest of the three, Mariam the youngest.

The family must make their escape at night. Many people are trying to get out of Kabul. In the mass rush to get on a truck, Mariam is left behind The family is heartbroken but they must continue on to the U.S. If they go back they could be imprisoned. At different times, everyone blames themselves for what happened to Mariam. Though Fadi feels the most guilt, since he was in charge of watching his younger sister.

In San Francisco, Fadi worries about Miriam while adjusting to living in a new country. The family is doing everything it can to locate Mariam. Fadi takes some comfort in his photography class. He believes winning a competition will help get his sister back.

Fadi is very good with a camera. In Kabul, Fadi's father taught him to love photography. I really appreciated Fadi's love and knowledge of photography. Fadi relationships with his family is well drawn especially his interaction with Noor.

After September 11th Fadi is beat up by two bullies who pick on immigrant students. There is an large Afghanistan committee in San Francisco, the author does a good job of getting across the new tenisons.

Mariam being left could've easily torn the family apart but they never pointed fingers at anyone but themselves. Mariam is found in the end. I really liked Fadi, I found him to be a very realistic character. Fadi's relationships with his family are well drawn especially his interaction with Noor.

Shooting Kabul is a wonderful debut and well worth the read. An excerpt

Another review at O.W.L

Sisters Red Jackson Pearce

Sisters Red Jackson Pearce
I love this cover. The artist behind it goes by the name Strawberryluna. As far as I can tell Strawberryluna designs mainly posters. I think this is their first book cover. Hopefully it won't be their last. There are alot YA readers in the bookstore I work at, including myself I'd say about seven. When Sisters Red came in, E, a YA reading co-worker told me that Pearce had stopped in to sign stock. Part of the novel is set in Atlanta. (giving it a local connection) And since E. loved it, I moved it up my queue. It was worthy of the jump.

When Scarlett March is 11 yrs old and Rosie March is 9 yrs old a werewolves knocks on their grandmothers door. Werewolves are handsome, charming desired and are known as Fenris. The sisters don't recognize the Fenris for what he is and let him into the house. The Fenris kills their grandmother. Scarett loses an eye, and her body is scarred protecting Rosie.
If little red riding hood survived the attack and had a sister, you'd have Sisters Red

The sisters hunt Fenris. They are the bait, wearing red capes and flowery perfume walking down isolated streets to attract and kill. Scarett likes to use a hatchet, knives are Rosie's weapon of choice. Silas is Scarlett's hunting partner. Their families have known each other forever. The three move from their small GA town to Atlanta when Fenris numbers get out of control. The Fenris are searching for the next Fenris "the potential" they will know him by scent.

The chapters alternate between the sisters. Scarlett and Rosie both have very distinct voices and personalities. Scarlett's dedicated her life to the hunt. It defines her and she's very good at it. Rosie understands why hunting is important but wants more. She struggles with how much she owes Scarlett for saving her life.

Two things stand out for me early. 1) The grandmother, Oma March screaming in German. It may seem like a small thing but I appreciate that the author gave her characters roots. 2) The sisters financial struggles. They must pawn a few items to pay for their half of the rent in a crappy apartment in a dangerous neighborhood. When characters have to worry about essentials like food and shelter it adds another dimension to the story for me.

Scarlett and Silas are partners and very good friends. When Silas gets involved with Rosie it changes the dynamic of all three relationships. Sisters Red has two strong female, wevewolves fighting, heroines who refuse to wait to be saved, even when cornered. Its been a week since I read Sisters Red, and the more I think about it the more I like it.
Though I do wish the March sisters had more interaction with other people. I think this would allow the reader to get to know the sisters a little better, and give a better feel for their surroundings. I was also surprised the March sisters and Silas didn't run into any other Fenris hunters in Atlanta. In a small town its understandable that there wouldn't be any more. Though in a big city I would expect others to see the truth behind the Fenris human mask and what to fight it.

From the beginning its clear that the author's approach is different. And that is why I
will keep on recommending Sisters Red.*

I've actually discussed Sisters Red a few times with two of my coworkers* who have also read it. Many things come up, including the ending. I (or we) love what Pearce did with it. Its one of the best endings I've read all year.

*I do plan on milking the did you know part of this story is set in Atlanta line for all its worth.
*we've also discussed how we plan to stalk, I mean pay Pearce a lot of not creepy in anyway attention.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A NerdsHeart YA Interview With Neesha Meminger

This the second year of the NerdsHeartYA . This year the tournament is looking at under represented YA literature. A few of the shortlisted authors have been interviewed by bloggers turned judges. I am second round judge. I hope people are paying attention to NerdsHeartYa since it feature 2009 YA titles that deserve and need a little more recognition. I have reviewed and enjoyed 15 of the 32 of the very diverse shorlisted titles.

One was Shine, Coconut Moon by Neesha Meminger It was released in paperback this week. This debut novel came to my attention after reading a guest post Meminger's did at Racialious called On Race and YA Lit After reading Meminger's guest post I wanted to read Shine Coconut Moon. Meminger just has a way with words. My review

Hi Neesha - I suppose everyone doesn't follow your blog. For those who don't please who is Neesha Meminger? And what is Shine, Coconut Moon about?

Neesha Meminger is an Indian-born, Punjabi, Sikh woman who grew up in Canada and now lives in the US with her husband and children.

Shine is about an Indian-American teen who grows up with little knowledge of her family background and history, but after the attacks on September 11th, 2001, her uncle comes back into her life, opening the door to so many of the mysteries of her past.

While I was reading Shine, Coconut Moon, I kept thinking about how different everything felt right after the 9/11 attacks. I saw a lot of American Flags on cars and in houses. Patriotism that can be attributed partly to fear scares me.

Do you think Shine, Coconut Moon being one of the first YA novels set right after 9/11 made it harder or easier to get a publisher?

Hmm, this is a good question. I think some publishers were probably afraid to touch the issue at all. I was lucky to find an editor who connected with the characters and the story, and saw the potential for Shine with teens and older readers, alike.

17-yr-old Samar (Sam) and her mother, Sharan have assimilated into western culture. Neesha, from reading your blog and a few interviews I know you are well acquainted with your South Asian heritage. So why did create two characters who weren't?

Actually, Sharan (the mom) grew up quite immersed in her South Asian-ness. That was part of the reason for her rejection of it. Her culture felt oppressive to her, restrictive. She blamed all of her pain and childhood struggle, in part, to the way her parents raised her - in strict adherence to cultural norms and traditions. And, because she wanted to spare her own daughter the pain of being "different" and alienated, she raised Sam to see herself only as American - as no different from any of her peers. Obviously, it backfired because Sam *wanted* to know more about herself and her history. Growing up without it left her feeling rootless and without community.

And in comes Sandeep who reaches out to his older sister and niece after 9/11. When I think of Uncle Sandeep, I always think of Ah Yuan's review of Shine, Coconut Moon. She's right, there is a lot to love about Uncle Sandeep.

Is it more satisfying to create a main or secondary character readers can relate to or love?

I love that people love some of the characters I've created! I try very hard to put ALL the aspects of my characters on the page - their flaws, their imperfections, their annoying habits, as well as their endearing qualities. They are like the rest of us - multi-faceted, full of contradictions, and still learning. If that's something readers can relate to, wonderful! If not, then that's okay, too. I don't necessarily like everyone I meet, either *smile*.

You said you wrote Shine, Coconut Moon for your daughters. Has your oldest one read it yet?

She is desperate to read it. She has read the first chapter and, since it is geared to ages fourteen and up, she knows she'll have to wait just a little longer to finish it! :) But in saying that I wrote it for my daughters, I meant that both literally and figuratively. I wrote the story for them and their generation - those who were born on this soil and have grown up here. Theirs is a very different experience than those of us who crossed over. We are the bridges and they are the seeds we've planted here.

Our parents were raised and nurtured on the soil of the past and of the other side of the ocean. I wanted to explore what it would be like, for this new generation, to grow up on foreign soil, but soil that was called "home", nonetheless - whether this land accepts them or rejects them, it is home. I wanted to see what it must be like for them to be leaning, like sunflowers toward the sun, to the other side of the ocean for clues as to who they are, where they are from . . . reaching, reaching for echoes of a distant past and getting only fragments.

If you met a mother like Sharan who thought the best way to get along was to blend, what would you say to her?

I would tell her to read my book - ha! LOL. No, seriously - I don't judge any mother's decisions. I might ask her if what she was doing was working for her and for her children. If it was, I would be glad. If it wasn't, I might ask what community, traditions, culture, etc., she was including for her children. Did they feel connected to a community - whatever that might be? Were they secure and comfortable in their identity?

Those are some of the tough questions we "hybrid moms" have to struggle with.
We're a blend of cultures, yet we exist within this push for homogeneity. We raise children among their peers - other children who are often taught to value sameness and punish difference. It's a tough place to be and requires a fine balancing act.

Fiction by South Asian authors is pretty popular. Unfortunately, that popularity doesn't cross over into YA fiction. Why do you think that is?

Thank You for pointing this out. Lately, there have been many discussions online about why there isn't more writing by, for, and about people of colour. I think this industry is changing, but it is s-l-o-w. I think children's/teens books are behind adult books when it comes to representation and diversity, though the numbers there are not great, either. Still, there are more and more people who see this disparity as the glaring problem it is and want things to change.

In terms of South Asian writing, I see a couple of things: 1) South Asians in the US have a very different history than South Asians in Canada and the UK. There is far more South Asian representation in Canada and the UK. More books, more on television, more in films, more in magazines. Part of that is the long history between Britain and South Asia, particularly India. So, Canadians and the British are far more versed in all things South Asian, are more familiar and, perhaps, accepting of South Asians in their cultural products.

Gurinder Chadha, who directed films like Bend it Like Beckham, Bhaji on the Beach, Bride and Prejudice, The Mistress of Spices and several others, came out of Britain, as did Narinder Dhami, author of the Bindi Babes books (which were made into a television series). South Asians have also made far more headway in cultural products in Canada than in the US, as well. In short, I think the US is allowing its own myopia to swallow opportunities for reaching wider audiences. The engrained belief that certain types of work "won't sell" is simply the result of focusing on a narrow market. There's a whole world out there that wants to read. And not all of it is monochromatic.

Thanks, again, Doret.

Thank you Neesha. Good luck in tournament.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Little Piano Girl Ann Ingalls - Mary Ann Macdonald - Giselle Potter

The Little Piano Girl: by Ann Ingalls & MaryAnn Macdonald illus. by Giselle Potter This is the story of Mary Lou Williams a famous female jazz musician. She played around the world and composed and arranged music for Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman.
Duke Ellington said of her, Mary's music retains a standard of quality that is timeless. She is like soul on soul." (the above came from the afterword)

The story itself is a wonderful look at a female jazz musician many might unfamiliar with (inculding myself) When Mary Lou Williams was three years old she would sit on her mother's lap and play a tune on the piano. Mary Lou spent most of her time playing the piano. When the Williams family moved to Pittsburgh in search of employment at the steel mills, they had to leave the piano behind.

Mary Lou was bullied in Pittsburgh. Though she had no piano that didn't keep her from playing.

"Ugly names and cruel words. Mary called them bad sounds, and she taught herself to play them out. Even without a keyboard, she could do it. Tapping on the tabletop, she beat back the bad sounds. She crooned and whispered and shouted out until her spirit was lifted free."

I love the rhyhtm of that passage, and many others. The authors give readers a very good appreciation of Mary Lou's muscial skill and how much people enjoyed it.

"When Mary cut loose, people couldn't stay still. They set to clapping, tapping, finger- snapping. Her blue notes made people want to cry at just how hard life can be. Her crazy chords made people shimmy their shoulders and shake their heads, high and happy. Mary would play a deep, powerful bass with one hand and lay a lacework of edgy blues over the top of it with the other. Her music rolled and slid and jumped along, zigzagging and giant- stepping."

The illustrations are great and a perfect fit for the text. I always love Potter's use of color. While reading , I was reminded of something else illustrated by Giselle Potter and it finally came to me. The album cover for Jazz for Kids: a great jazz CD for kids.

The Little Piano would be a great addition to any library. ages 5up. It could be paired nicely with Piano Starts Here: by Robert A. Parker. A biography on jazz great Art Tatum.

Read an excerpt
A review @ NC Teacher Stuff

I've linked this post to Non Fiction Monday. The round up can be found this week at Books Together

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Tell Us We're Home

Tell Us We're Home by Marina Budhos
Jaya, Maria and Lola are in the 8th grade and live in the wealthy suburb of Meadowbrook, NJ. Their classmates never have worry about money. Some spend good money on clothes to look like they have no money. The three friends, Jaya, Maria and Lola aren't as privileged financially. All three have immigrated to America. Jaya is from Trinidad, Maria is from Mexico and Lola is from Slovakia. Their mothers are maids and nannies working for the parents of their classmates.

Jaya and Lola are the first to meet. They get along instantly. The two are bonded by the work of their mothers, going to the rich middle school, and being on the outside. When Jaya and Lola meet Maria the threesome is complete.

Budhos does a wonderful job with the friendships. The three take great comfort in each other, no explanations, lies or excuses are necessary.

Jaya's mother is fired for stealing. Jaya wants to clear her mother's name. Maria and Lola want to help but something goes wrong. The three friends begin to grow apart.

Jaya, Lola and Maria. have very distinct personalities and stories about how and why they came to America. The chapters alternate between the three and that worked very well for me. I was able to enjoy the stories of all three girls.

Jaya is worried about her mother's unjust firing. Maria likes and is tutoring a guy who comes from money. Lola is dealing with anger issues. There is much more like the unspoken divide of the have and the have nots. The author does an excellent job of seamlessly pulling it all together.

Tell US We're Home is a beautifully written novel. Budhos has created three very realistic three dimensional protagonist. She doesn't play favorites, each girl gets the same amount of page time. In those pages we learn about them and their friendships. Ages 12up

Read an excerpt
Author Lynn Miller Lachmann's review @ Readergirlz

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Branding and Me

With blogging sometimes its funny how topics align. Over at Chasing Ray, Colleen Mondor has two recent post up about online branding be it authors or bloggers, inspired by a recent manifesto by author Maureen Johnson The first time Colleen brings up branding its with a few other things of interest. She follows it up with an entry solely on branding

I feel not branding as hurt me. When I started my blog I knew was going to focus on diversity but I wasn't going to only talk about or review books with kids of color. I like what I like don't think I should have to make various categories. Though there was a time when I considered starting a sports centered blog. In the end I didn't because I thought it would take the fun out of reading sports novels. I figured I would always be looking at sports novels and feel like I had to read them. Must reads quickly take the joy out of reading.

Over at the Shelf Talker there is a new article by Elizabeth Bluemle called The Elephants in the Room. Its about the lack of diversity in children's literature. She list a few blogs of interest.

I believe my lack of branding or not only reviewing books with kids of color kept me off this list.
My blog first and for most is about the books. If it ever gets to the point where I want it to be about me I will stop blogging. Though, I would be lying if I said not being listed didn't bother me. I am not a bells and whistles type of girl but I do work hard on my blog.

I like working at a bookstore. I have a lot of regular customers I always enjoy helping. Anyone who has worked retail knows there will always be customers you want to avoid. I've mastered the dip, dodge and pass so I don't usually have to deal with unkinds.

I am good at what I do and like it but some day I want to find a job with a publishing house. I don't know if my blog being a link of interest would help my chances. Though not being one must hurt. I mean how good can I be if there aren't that many children's blog's that focus on diversity ( though I have seen more children's books with kids of color being reviewed this year) and yet I don't get linked.

If I had to do it all over again would I brand? No, because, that is simply not me. Though recently I have been thinking about making my blog more searcher friendly. So people can access old reviews and interviews easier.

I thought my talking about books I like no matter the race, ethnic, religious or sexual orientation of the characters was what the publishing industry was striving for. Maybe I did brand myself unknowingly. Good writing is good writing. It is written by authors of all nationalities. Recongize it, love it and enjoy it. That is my brand.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A NerdsHeartYA Interview W/ Terra Elan McVoy

This the second year of the NerdsHeartYA . This year the tournament is looking at under represented YA literature. Over the next week or so, a few of the shortlisted authors will be interviewed by bloggers turned judges. I am a second round judge. I love the diversity of the shorlisted titles. I've read reviewed and enjoyed 15 of the 32 titles.

Including Pure by Terra Elan McVoy. I do hope you'll take a moment to check out the shortlisted titles. After reading this interview of course. Because right here, right now, its all about Terra Elan McVoy and her wonderful YA debut Pure. My review

Hi Terra - congratulations on the recent release of your second novel After the Kiss. Can you tell us a little about yourself and Pure?

Well, I grew up in Tallahassee, FL, and was in love with reading and writing pretty much as soon as I learned how to them. I've always written poems and stories, and I've almost always had jobs that have something to do with reading or writing in some way, including teaching fiction and composition when I was a grad student at Florida State University.

I started writing Pure when I was working in publishing in New York. I was reading a lot of YA fiction that I felt didn't really represent what life was like being a pretty "normal" teenager, and I thought that was weird. I mean, I didn't go to an elite boarding school; my parents weren't incredibly rich (and always leaving me on my own while they traveled to Japan or wherever), or dying of cancer; I wasn't plotting the revengeful murder of any of my friends, and I certainly wasn't in love with a vampire (as far as I know). I had pimples and boys and clothes and work and church and friends to deal with, and that was dramatic enough! So I wanted to write something about how hard it is, having to grow up, define yourself, and choose your own morality. When I was given an article about purity rings, it all sort of clicked together, and I felt like I'd found the hook for my story.

A "normal" teenager, so that's why there was homework and actual test to study for.
Purity rings is a topic I would have bet serious money, I would never have read a book about. Terra, you cost me a lot of imaginary money and I know I can't be the only one. Pure has been out for over a year. What has the feedback been from readers who were tentative about picking it up because of the subject matter?

Happily, for me, most people have had the same reaction you did. They thought "Oh my gah. I cannot read a book with all this Jesus stuff in it!" Some people have been put off, sure, but it seems like ultimately, when they got into it and gave it a chance, they saw that there was a lot more to Pure than a bunch of preaching in one direction or another. It was really, really important to me to be fair to everyone in the book, and to take each side as seriously as they would themselves, and that included religion. But nothing in life is really simple and clear-cut, even if, like Morgan, we want it to be sometimes. I'm glad that a lot of people are finding out that this book isn't clear-cut, either.

Pure is written in such a balanced and thoughtful matter, it could easily lead to questions and conversations. I will never understand purity rings, though in the end it comes down to respecting the choices of others. One way to do this is through dialogue.

That is definitely one thing I was trying to accomplish with this book.

I found your main character 15 Tabitha very likable and realistic. When you started writing, did you always know the type of girl Tabitha would be? Or did that change over time?

Tab was very, very clear to me from the second I started writing. I heard her voice right away and knew her pretty completely, including knowing how she'd handle things in the end. It's why I was able to write the book in the first place: something I'd never done before and never thought I'd try to attempt. Tabitha, thank goodness, was more certain and solid than I was a lot of the time!

Tabitha's friendships with her three closet friends (who also have purity rings) is broken when one of the girls has sex. Tabitha's best friend Morgan is strong in her convictions and will not have anything to do with the other girl. Tabitha must choose between a friend or a life promise. Being 15, its the first time she faces something like that and struggles with it. I always assume authors become very close to their main characters. Was it hard to put Tabitha in such a difficult position?

No because I knew she was going to be okay. And that dilemma you pinpoint is exactly what I wanted to write about. When you are in high school, you can lose friends almost overnight by making certain decisions: who you're going to hang out with, what classes you're going to take, if you'll get a job, what you wear . It's painful and awful and horrible, but it's also amazing and very, very important. I knew Tab was going to suffer, but because I had to go through very similar things once myself, I knew she was going to come out okay, and stronger in herself.

Tabitha's bestfriend Morgan likes to be in control and have the best of everything when compared to her friends. What did you want readers to take away from their relationship?

Mainly just that life is change. As you grow and develop, the relationships you have need to grow and develop with you --make room for who you have become-- because if they can't or don't, they aren't going to last very long. But also that growing and changing (and maybe losing things in the process) is okay

Religion is always a touching subject. How do you think you did? Would you have changed anything?
You're right that religion is touchy. But it's also a big part of a lot of people's lives. The hardcore stuff we see or hear about on TV is only a tiny-miney fraction of what's out there. Which is part of why I wanted to take on something like this: to show that there are other ways of believing in God, and trying to practice that in your life. I based a lot of Tabitha's church experience on my own background, so I think there I did okay. If there's one thing I'd change it's maybe where the Ring Thing celebration is in the book. With it being in there so early, and being so intense, it might've set a weird tone for some readers. But it makes such an impact on Tab, I couldn't have taken it out altogether!

Terra, thanks again and good luck in the tournament.

Thanks again to you, Doret, and I'm looking forward to the competition, though being chosen at all is a terrific honor to me!

NerdsHeartYA just announced two great prize packs that can be won for promoting the competition. There is a signed copy of Pure in second one. And remember every time you spread the word about NerdsHeartYA others get wiser to the goodness of the shortlisted authors.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Seeds of Change Jen Cullerton Johnson Sonia Lynn Sadler

Seeds of Change by Jen Cullerton Johnson and Sonia Lynn Sadler
This is a wonderful picture book biography on Wangari Maathai the first African woman and environmentalist to win the Nobel Peace Prize

When Seeds of Change begins when a young Wangari Maathai is learning the importance of trees from her mother. Though many Kenyan girls didn't get an education at the time, Wangar's parents allow her to go to school.

"Wangari walked the long road to a one-room schoolhouse with walls made of mud, a floor of dirt, and a roof of tin. In time she learned to copy her letters and trace numbers. Wangari's letters soon made words, and her words made sentences. She learned how number could be added and subtracted, multiplied and divided. Animals and plants, she discovered, were like human beings in many ways. They needed air, water and nourishment too."

Johnson doesn't waste a line or word, everything leads to another fact. The author gives a reader (of any age) a great sense of who Wangari Maathai is, a woman who loves her country and believes in the power of trees to save, enough to go to jail for. I liked Sadler's use of color. Though the illustrations didn't enhance the text for me. After the first few pages my focus was on Johnson's words.

"America had changed Wangari. She had discovered a spirit of possibility and freedom that she wanted to share with Kenyan women. She accepted a teaching job at the University of Nairobi. Not many women were professors then and even fewer taught science. Wangari led the way for other women and girls. She worked for equal rights so that female scientists would be treated with the same respect as male scientists."

There was another picture book biography on Wangari Maathai released this year called Mama Miti: by Donna Jo Napoli - I liked it but I was left wanting to know more. These biographies probably shouldn't be compared since the authors took different approaches but its inevitable that they will be. So all things being equal, Seeds of Change is my favorite.

Check out a few professional reviews via Lee & Low Books

I've linked this to Non Fiction Monday roundup which can be found at Charlotte's Library this week.

I Am a Judge and More

This is the second year for the NerdsHeartYA tournament for under represented YA literature. The 32 books shortlisted were recently released. I love this list. Its filled with a lot of great books that could do from a little more attention. I am a judge in the second round

I will be posting an interview with on of the shortlisted authors Terra Elan McVoy very soon. Her wonderful novel Pure is out in paperback now.

Do check out author Zetta Elliott's three part series with author Rita Williams Garcia on her new middle grade novel One Crazy Summer. (I got nothing but love for that book). I know many people will probably miss this which is a shame, because like One Crazy Summer there is an openness to it that I loved.

I am still having a very hard time understanding the Gulf Oil Spill. How it happened and why its still spilling? As bad as the Exxon Valdez oil spill was in 89, I could grasp the why and the how. I wonder if the fisherman who are helping with the cleanup and taking people to and from on their boats are being paid for their time. Edi sent me this picture of a sad, funny, ironic and inappropriate sign at a BP station she got via twitter.