Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Cornered: 14 Stories of Bullying and Defiance

Cornered: 14 Stories of Bulling and Defiance edited by Rhoda Belleza
I assumed most of the stories in this collection would feature the bullied.  While there are stories with thebullied as the main character, there is much more.  In The Shift Sticks by Josh Berk,the main character Bryan, was a bystander in elementary school while, Tiffany, another student was being bullied.  Bryan runs into Tiffany,when visiting family in another town.  There was something very real about Bryan and Tiffany voices.  In  How Auto- Tune Saved My Life by Brendan Halpin, students in an elite private school have to contend with a teacher using his position to mock and bully students.  One great lesson learned from this very fun story is that auto tune remixes don't just make songs fun, they can also jazz up a story quite nicely.  In Sweet Sixteen by Zetta Elliott, two very different worlds collide when a teenage prostitute and girl who has grown up on a secluded compound meet.  They have very different experiences,however, both are being used and  each girl has the courage and the desire to survive.

 Along with being well developed, none of the stories are bogged down by lessons to be learned.  Much kudos to Belleza the editor for putting this collection together. The first story is Nemesis by Kirsten Miller. the main character is a former victim turned vigilante.  Followed by On Your Own Level by Sheba Karim. Shabnam the main character, is kissed by a boy at a party, and then is bullied by the girl who likes the boy.  The third story is Berk's. All three were very good and set the tone for this collection.  

Cornered was released in paperback and is only $9.95.
An excerpt

Monday, July 30, 2012

The 1st Post Back is Always The Hardest/August New Releases

I took an unexpected but much needed hiatus. I have enjoyed the extra time but I am trying to get my blogging grove back. Though I have still been reading.  I am almost done with Team Human by Justine Larbalestier & Sarah Rees Brennan. I was bit worried before I started reading it, because I lent it to a friend first and she didn't care for it. But, it is so Good.  I love some of the chapter titles - "Hard Out There For A Vamp" or "Interrogation with the Vampire".  Also there is a bit of a mystery, a serious unexpected bonus.  I loved Geoff Herbach's debut last year Stupid Fast, and I was excited to read the follow up "Nothing Special" but also a little worried because the author set the bar so high with the first one, but Nothing Special is an very good and a must read for all Stupid Fast fans. 

It Jes Happened by Don Tate illus. by R. Gregory Christie is also very good.  It is the story about folk artist Bill Traylor.  A few months back a few months back the High Museum in Atlanta was showing some of Traylor's work, and I was able to go with a friend. I really enjoyed it especially the people Traylor drew and the sharp clothes he put them in.   Tate and Christie had a book signing at the High, but unfortunately I had to work that day so I couldn't go.   

Instead of doing an on sale now post for August, I've decided to simply list the two titles I am aware of now.  I know there are more August releases that fit my criteria of featuring characters of color or having a diverse cast. But truth be told I don't feel like looking for them. Is that wrong? Maybe a little.  But it takes a lot of time, and I should only do it if I want to. I love the search when I am in the mode for it, otherwise it feels like work. So only two this week, though of course I will mention other new releases when they are brought to my attention. 

August New Releases
Fire in the Streets by Kekla Magoon

A Certain October by Angela Johnson

As an added bonus a fiction title I can't wait to read that I've heard as some YA crossover appeal
Devil's Wake by Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due.  I am a very big Due fan, so much so that I am psyched to read this book about Zombies even though they are just not my thing.

Finally a very random tidbit that will probably never be useful, but here it is anyway, the three listed releases are all published by Simon & Schuster

Friday, July 6, 2012

Cinco Puntos Press - (Small Press Fortnight Blog Tour)

After spending a three months interning at Periene Press, a small publishing press in London, Jodie from Bookgazing decided to give bloggers the opportunity to  show a little love to smaller, independent presses. 

It's no secret that independent publishers have a smaller budget, however this doesn't stop many from focusing much of their attention on marginalized groups.  Just in terms of children's and YA fiction, many small presses are dedicated to publishing multicultural titles.  Cinco Puntos Press, started in 1985, is an small independent press based in El Paso, Texas.  Like most independent houses, it goes for the quality over quantity approach, publishing just a few titles a year. One of the these I love about Cinco Puntos Press is that the owners Bobby and Lee Byrd are conscious of being three miles north of the US Mexican Border. Being so close to the Border it is only natural that El Paso, Texas have a large Latino population. The Byrd's embraced, Latino authors and their stories.

Sammy & Juliana in Hollywood by Benjamin Alire Saenz and Crossing Bok Chitto by Tim Tingle are the first two books I read that were published by Cinco Puntos Press.   Since then, they have been one of my go to smaller presses for children's and young adult literature.  I think Sammy & Juliana in Hollywood, is one of the best YA novels of all time.  Part of me can't help put wonder if Saenz submitted it to one of  big six, would his YA debut been been published?  

Unfortunately  there are only a few of Native American children's and young adult authors.  Because of that a small press who publishes a Native American author is going to get some serious points with me, especially when it is very well done. Tingle's Crossing Bok Chitto is definitely that.

Last year, Maximilian &the Mystery of the Guardian Angel by Xavier Garza was a 2012  Pura Belpre Award Honor Book.

I am very much looking forward to -

Conspiracy Girl by Karen Chacek (September)

Cadillac Chronicles by Brett Hartman (October)

The Full Fortnight Schedule.  Thanks so much for Jodie for putting this together.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Small Press Fortnight Blog Tour

For the next two weeks there is an ongoing project that will showcase various independent publishers, started by Jodie from BookgazingThe full schedule   Tomorrow, is my official day to post about Cinco Puntos Press. (Still need to finish it.)  Today, I've decided to a list titles by small presses I've loved and some I am looking forward to. 

Albert Whitman & Company
 Zapato Power  by Jacqueline Jules, This is a great series

Beautiful Lie by Irfan Master, which comes out in August is excellent. The book was first released in the UK.

Flying Dragon by Natalie Dias Lorenzi - A very good debut, this month actually.

Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins - I love the author's style and this story 

Cinco Puntos Press
Crossing Bok Chitto by Tim Tingle - This awarding winning book is intense and very good. 

Conspiracy Girl by Karen Chacek. I don't know what I love more, the cover or the title.  Can't wait to read this one.
Kane Miller Publishing
Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke - This is a great series.

Lee & Low Books  - First kudos for having such a searchable website. 
Shining Star:The Anna May Wong Story by Paula Yoo - I love this biography
Summer of the Mariposas by Guadalupe Garcia McCall.  I loved the author's award winning debut Under the Mesquite  and I am very much looking forward her next novel and first fantasy

The Cheshire Cheese Cat by Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright - I loved this one so much. 

We've Got A Job by Cynthia Levinson -Excellent piece of nonfiction

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Flying the Dragon - Natalie Dias Lorenzi

Flying the Dragon by Natalie Dias Lorenzi
Skye and Hiroshi Tsuki are cousins but they've never meet. Skye lives in the United States with her parents and loves to play soccer. Hiroshi lives in Japan with his parents and grandfather, and loves flying kites.  After Skye's father married,he moved to the States, and has never been back to Japan.   Skye is finally going to meet her grandfather because he's moving to Virginia to for medical treatment.  Hiroshi and his parents are moving as well. 

The chapters alternate between the two cousins.  The author does an excellent job, transitioning from Skye to Hiroshi.  The two have very distinct voices and concerns.  Skye has been selected for the soccer all star team for the first time, though there's a conflict with the Japanese lessons and she might not be able to play.  Hiroshi is having a difficult time adjusting to the move and learning English.  One thing the two have in common is their grandfather.  Hirsohi has always been very close to his grandfather. Skye feels an instant bond with his grandfather and wants to get to know him better.

  Some of best scenes center around kite flying/ kite fighting, both of which run through Tsuki's blood, including Skye's even though she never touched a kite until she meets her cousin and grandfather. Many of the readers who pick up this book will be unfamiliar Kokkaku, or Japanese fighting kites and explanations could've easy bogged down the storyline. However the author gives the reader, clear, fun and visually appealing  basic understanding of Kokkaku.  Flying the Dragon is a very fitting title for this great debut.

An excerpt  

Monday, July 2, 2012

On Sale Now : New Releases

Displaying new releases at the beginnning of the month, with characters of color or that sfeature a diverse cast, is my only ongoing feature.  Though recently I've considered stopping it, because each month I am missing a lot of titles.  Not working in a bookstore anymore, I am out of the new release loop, and the lists are more incomplete then I would like.  Though I will continue it for now
July New Releases (or at least this year)
Love Amalia by Alma Flor Ada and Gabriel M. Zubizarreta

Postcards from Pismo by Michael Scotto (May)
Flying Dragon by Natalie Dias Lorenzi

Before You Go by James Preller
Cornered: 14 Stories of Bullying and Defiance edited by Rhoda Belleza
The Letter Q:Queer Writers to their Younger Selves editied by Sarah Moon and James Lecesne (May)
Dark Companion by Marta Acosta

Team Human by Sarah Rees Brennan and Justine Larbalestier

Down to the Bone by Mayra Lazara Dole

Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel (June)
Losers in Space by John Barnes* (April), This one came to my attention thanks to the Booksmugglers rave review. (I quickly added this to my library queue)

*I loved Barnes last novel, Tales of the Madman Underground, which is  more proof that I am losing my find the new release edge. Last year I would not have missed a title by an author who's last novel I couldn't stop talking about.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Texas Gothic - Rosemary Clement-Moore

Texas Gothic by Rosemary Clement-Moore
Amy Goodnight will be ranch sitting for her aunt Hyancith with her old sister Phin.  All the Goodnight women are practicing witches with the exception of Amy.  After a near death run in with a ghost when she was younger Amy does her best to stay clear of all things magical even though its in her blood.   Amy has her hands full with her aunt's ranch; the goats keep escaping and climbing the trees and there are rumors that a ghost is terrorizing a nearby farm.  Amy is tasked with solving the mystery, the first step is to figure out if the ghost that has attached itself to her is the same one that is causing all the damage on the other farm.

 This novel was so much fun. It has all the right elements.  Beginning with strong writing, continuing to great character chemistry and dialogue, with a dash of mystery and ghosts on top.  I love longer novels that seem smaller then they are.  Texas Gothic is 406 but it felt like 300, I was very much engaged from beginning to end.   This is the first time I've read Clement-Moore, (all thanks do to the interview the author did at Finding Wonderland) and I will definitely be reading more.  Texas Gothic was released in 2011 so there's a good chance it is at your local library, that's where I got my copy. The paperback comes out in August, though it is very much hardcover worthy, if you rather not wait and buy it now. 

An excerpt 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Alien On A Rampage - Clete Barrett Smith

Alien On A Rampage by Clete Barrett Smith
This is the follow up to the author's excellent debut Aliens on Vacation.   Once again David is going to be spending the summer working at his grandmothers bed and breakfast, which caters to aliens who want to visit earth while on vacation.  However, this time David is excited from the start to be going to the Intergalactic Bed &Breakfast.

David's grandmother has more help, making it difficult for him to find ways to be useful.  The bed and breakfast has it's first alien employee, Scratchull.  David does not trust the condescending, and human hating (when no one else is around) alien.  But everyone loves Scratchull and since David keeps on messing up he can't convince anyone that Scratchull is up to no good.  

David is a very likable, down to earth (pun intended) character, and seeing the Intergalactic Bed and Breakfast through his eyes is a lot of fun.  This sequel has all the great elements of the first book. Smith takes it a step father, skillfully building on what he already started; once again the dialogue is sharp and funny.

Chapter One  

Friday, June 22, 2012

Male Protagonists - Are An Essential Part Of My Reading Diet

Most of the novels I've read recently feature female protagonist.  I love stories with female leads but I can not exist on that diet alone, and I am experiencing a bit of a burn out. In the beginning of the year I read a some excellent YA novels featuring male protagonist

In Darkness by Nick Lake
The Knife and the Butterfly by Ashley Hope Perez
Froi of the Exiles by Melina Marchetta
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz 
Boy21 by Matthew Quick

I loved all of the above, unfortunately the last one was published in March,  and I would very much like find more young adult or middle grade novels  with male protagonists to enjoy.  However there's just not a large selection especially when I disregard the ones I have no interest and the others that end up in my DNF pile because they couldn't keep my attention.

However I think my slump is finally ending. I recently read two good YA debuts, A Beautiful Lie by Irfan Master and Before You Go by James Preller.

A few more I am very much looking forward to reading
Nothing Special by Geoff Herbach - I loved the author's debut Stupid Fast, it was one of my favorite debuts of 2011
Thou Shall Not Road Trip by Antony John - The author's last novel Five Flavors of Dumb was made me break out my old Nirvana MTV unplugged CD  awesome. 
 Lucky Fools by Coert Voorhees - I loved the author's 2009 debut, The Brothers Torres and I have been impatiently waiting for a new novel by the author ever since. - (July)
The Quick Fix by Jack D. Ferraiolo  - This is the long awaited follow up (for me anyway)  to The Big Splash, the first and still the best, humorous middle grade mystery (Oct)
Street Dreams by Tama Wise - This one I found thanks to author Malinda Lo. I've never read a Maori author , and I like the cover so there's no way I could pass this one up
The Drowned Cities by Paolo Baciqalupi  - This is the companion to Ship Breaker, which I enjoyed but not as much as most people, but I liked it enough not to pass this one up

Alien on a Rampage by Clete Barrett Smith was also on this list but I finished it the other day. It really enjoyed it, it was as good as the first one.   And with that my slump is officially over.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Lone Bean - Chudney Ross

Lone Bean by Chudney Ross
I couldn't resist reading this middle grade debut thanks to its very adorable cover.  Bean is excited about the start of third grade, but has a very bad first day.  Carla, the best friend, no longer wants to be friends. Bean feels left out when Carla starts hanging out with Sam, another girl in their class.   Bean is the youngest of three girls. Her older sister's Rose and Gardenia never have time to play with her.  Bean also has a flower name but doesn't like to use it.

 At school Bean  trying very hard to find a new best friend.  Bean's dad  is a music professor and he wants all his daughters to play an instrument of their choosing and it is now time for Bean to pick hers. The Lone Bean was an enjoyable read. Bean is a fun new character a lot of little girls will love.  This is a good debut.  I am looking forward to seeing where the author takes this series.  Ross has started with a very strong  foundation, there is already a lot to like and I can see them getting better with time.   

 Over the last few years there have been more early chapter series featuring Black girls, like Keena Ford  by Thomson, Dyamonde Daniel  by Ford, Sugar Plum Ballerinas by Goldberg. However just passed this reading level there are not a lot of books featuring Black girls.  So Lone Bean helps fill a very large gap and would be a nice addition to any library.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

37 Things I Love (in no particular order) Kekla Magoon

37 Things I Love (in no particular order) by Kekla Magoon
Ellis, has less then a week left of her sophomore year but all she can think about is her father who has been in a coma for the last few years.  Her mother wants to talk about their next step but Ellis doesn't want to let her father go.  When Ellis was younger she had two best friends Abby and Cora.  Cora pulled away from the group around 8th grade, and Ellis never knew why but she was too worried about her father to find out.   Ellis and Abby are still friends but Abby can't be counted on to listen. So Ellis turns to her other friend Colin who does care enough to pay attention but Ellis still feels a bit out of sorts as if something is missing. Slowly and carefully Ellis and Cora are learning how to reconnect. Ellis discovers that her one time best friend is a lesbian.  Cora's old/new friendship/maybe something more is just what Ellis needs.   Ellis and Cora's relationship is handled very well.  However like everything else. it was secondary to Ellis trying to cope with her father's coma and learn how to talk with her mother. This has a softer touch then Magoon's  previous novels.  I appreciate an author with a bit of range, different stories should read differently.  Ellis's heart is on display throughout.  I have read all of Magoon's novels and she has yet to disappoint. Actually she simply keeps getting better.  

An excerpt

Friday, June 15, 2012

Benjamin Alire Saenz Interview (2012 Blog Blast Tour)

Welcome to the final day of the SBBT. I've been a fan of Benjamin Alire Saenz since I read Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood. With each  new book Saenz confirms that he is one of the best YA authors out. His most recent novel Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe has been very well received including two starred reviews.

Hi Benjamin, bienveindo. Can you tell us a little about Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe?

The story follows the implications of the title. The Universe and fifteen years old boys seem so insignificant--and yet they must find their place in the universe--they must discover it. And how do boys discover the universe, anyway? So many mysteries and secrets to be solved. There are the mysteries and secrets of parents. Their are the mysteries and secrets of the body and how it changes in boys and how it changes them. Ari is lost and miserable. Dante, too is lost, but he isn't miserable. He throws himself into the universe and feels a part of it. Ari does not. And yet no boy, can face the world alone. When Ari and Dante meet, the biggest secret of the universe becomes their friendship, their deep and profound love--though they do not understand just how deep and profound that love is. This a love a love story, but not just between two boys. It is a love between boys and their parents, and that love is the most profound love of all.

Who spoke to you first Aristotle or Dante?

Definitely Ari. He's lost and has to find himself. Not everybody has an easy time discovering who they are. I was such a boy. In a way, he's kind of a stand in for me. And yet, gregarious, likeable, intellectual Dante, in some ways I was more him on the outside. These two boys, they're different versions of me. I am a contradiction. I am both an extrovert and an introvert. It wasn't difficult for me to create these characters. It was as if I was giving myself a gift when I wrote this book. I wish to hell that I had come to terms with my identity when I was boy. It would have made my life so much less complicated.

In this coming of age story Dante is the talker and not afraid to share his emotions yet the story is narrated by Aristotle.  Why did you decide to allow readers to see everything through the eyes of Aristotle, the one of few words?

Because part of Ari's journey is to discover the words he has inside him. It is Dante that teaches him a new language, a new way of looking at the world. Ari must learn how to articulate himself if he is to survive, so it had to be told from his point of view. It's painful to put yourself into words. Ari tried to make himself invulnerable--but he wasn't. He was just another vulnerable kid in the world who didn't know how to be in the world. It would have been a much less interesting book if it had been told from Dante's point of view.

Both sets of parents add another wonderful layer something I've come to expect from your stories. How do you think the parents were changed by the journey of their sons?

Good parents are always changed by their children's lives. Ari's father, particularly was changed by his son's journey. In many ways, Ari and his father's journey are parallel. Ari's father has learn to talk to his son. Ari thinks his father's aloof--but he isn't. He just keeps the things he sees to himself. But, as he watches his son, he knows what's going on with his son. But, he has to learn to share those insights with his son. In addition, there is a bond between Dante's mother and Ari. Ari changes Dante's mother somehow. When they come back from being away for a year, Dante's mother says, "Dane isn't the only one who missed you." She sees something beautiful in Ari and it moves her and it changes her.

Your writing has a poetic sensibility, with a fluid light touch that I love. When writing a novel do the poet and writer in you ever disagree about what the next line will be ?

 No. Not really. All I can say is that I would have never become a novelist if I hadn't been a poet first. Writing poetry made me a more introspective and thothoughtful writer. Some of my critics say that my characters are too insightful, that no fifteen year old, or sixteen year old, or seventeen year old can have the insights I attribute to them. In effect, the criticism is that I am more in love with my own lyricism and not concerned enough with writing credible characters. Obviously, I disagree. I was a very introspective teenager. And I knew many others. Just because we enjoyed cussing, didn't mean we were incapable of reading books, and thinking about the world around us. I don't know, I think sometimes, poetry can simply be an ordinary but important insight. Sometimes, a sentence can be beautiful, not so much because of the writing, but because it says something that is true--maybe that's the light touch you're talking about.

There are many beautiful moments throughout but heart is Aristotle and Dante's relationship

Were you ever surprised by their actions or was the outcome a forgone conclusion?

I confess this one fact. I always have the last line of my novel in my head when I write it. That doesn't mean, that I'm not surprised by the things that I write sometimes. For instance, I hadn't really planned on the accident and what happened afterwards. I was surprised by the scene when Dante shaves Ari because Ari can't do it for himself. I think it's the most tender moments in the novel--because it's so raw and so difficult for Ari. I didn't know I was going to write that scene. But it seemed so right. Just because I know how the novel was going to end, doesn't mean I always knew how I was going to get there. Some blogger said the ending was predictable. Maybe so. But, for me, it's the journey that matters. We take a trip with two boys and, in the end, we feel we know them. We feel that they were real. And they are real. Boys fall in love with each other sometimes. Sometimes they don't even know that's what's happening. That love can be painful. Every kind of love can be painful. But that doesn't mean, the novel has to end in tragedy, does it? If I'd have written this as an adult novel, I would have given it a different ending. But I wrote this book for boys and their parents. I wanted my readers to understand that love between boys is fragile and tender and lovely--and difficult--but also possible.

Be sure to check out the other two SBBT interviews today

Jennifer Miller @Bildungsroman

Ashley Hope Perez @ Crazy Quilts

Full SBBT Round Up

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Cynthia Levinson Interview (2012 Summer Blog Blast Tour)

  Over the past few years there have been several young adult non fiction books on the civil rights movements.  So even though We've Got A Job received three starred reviews, I let the galley sit on my ereader longer then I care to admit to. When I finally  started reading it, I quickly realized it stood out.
Today I have a pleasure of presenting an interview with the author, Cynthia Levinson for the Summer Blog Blast Tour

Hi, Cynthia, and welcome. Can you please tell us a little about We've Got A Job? And where the title derives from?

We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March tells the story of how 3,000 to 4,000 black school children protested and went to jail in order to desegregate Birmingham, Alabama, and save the Civil Rights Movement, which was in a decline. The book does so through the experiences and voices of four particular young people, each of whom represents a different aspect of the black community in Birmingham then.

The title comes from a song, written by a teenager named Carlton Reese. He practiced it on the upright piano in the living room of one of these four children, Audrey Faye Hendricks, and it became her favorite civil rights song. Audrey’s father and many of her aunts and uncles sang in the Birmingham Movement for Human Rights Choir, which recorded an album titled “We’ve Got a Job.”

What is your preferred writing process, assembling the information first,or research has you write?

Although I did a tremendous amount of research before starting to write the book and even more while writing it, there’s no way that I know of to do all the research in advance. The two are inextricably intertwined and continually inform each other. In addition, inevitably, an editor will ask a question that leads to more investigations.

My editor at Peachtree, Kathy Landwehr, for instance, asked me an apparently simple question: who was the mayor of Birmingham in 1963? That question led to my reading most of a 700-page book about municipal politics in Alabama and interviewing the book’s author. It also led to my restructuring an entire chapter and working into the narrative an essential “sub-plot.” The story behind who was the mayor of Birmingham— there were two, who were suing each other for control!—turned out to explain, in part, why Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”

The four young people, We've Got  A Job is based around truly stood out. How did you find Audrey Hendricks, Wash Booker, Arnetta Streeter and James Stewart?

The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI) has been conducting video interviews with local civil rights activists (and a few anti-civil rights activists) since the early 1980s. I read through dozens of transcripts of these interviews and “found” Audrey, James, and Wash that way. Audrey was practically a given because she was so young—nine years old when she spent a week in jail. More importantly, she was (sadly, she died three years ago) a lovely woman, who cared deeply about sharing her stories.

The first time I met Wash, on the first of my three research trips to Birmingham, I immediately knew he was a given, too, because he was both “a bad boy” and very candid about his exploits. And, James’s interview made him very appealing because, like Wash’s, his memories were very distinct and detailed. However, unlike Wash, he was a law-abiding A student. I could tell that they’d be great foils for each other. When I discovered that they were also friends, that was a bonus.

Arnetta came to me through an activist in Birmingham named Odessa Woolfolk. I had also met Odessa on my first trip there. She was very involved in the establishment of the BCRI and, before that, had been James’s Civics teacher. She was one of the few teachers at the time who encouraged the kids to play hooky from school, protest, and go to jail. So, I knew when she suggested that I talk with Arnetta that this would be a great source!

I am a stickler for well-cited non fiction and this is definitely that. You also have extensive back matter at the end, including a map of Birmingham's downtown district. How did you find a healthy balance between citing individuals involved in Birmingham's civil rights movement and your narrative?

Finding balance between individual, idiosyncratic experience, on the one hand, and background explanation is a good way to describe the process. Each person, because of her and his situation, gave me the opportunity to explore different aspects of the times and the place. For instance, because Audrey’s parents were very active in the Civil Rights Movement, I could write both about her and, simultaneously, about the history of the movement in Birmingham. Similarly, Arnetta’s experiences as a very light-skinned black person, let me write both about how she handled being “high yellow,” as other black kids labeled her skin tone, and about divisions within the black community. So, that balance developed organically.

The photographs speak volumes, giving a deeper understanding of racial divide and what Birmingham teens endured for change. Did you have a harder time editing the text or deciding which photos to include?

Both were hard! Editing the text was largely a matter of explaining background, deepening details, confirming facts, and adjusting nuances. The photos were not hard to find but many, including a number we could not use, were very costly. I spent a couple of days at the Library of Congress doing photo research, which was a great experience that resulted in wonderful visuals. I found many others at the BCRI, and my editor found a trove at the Birmingham Public Library. The photo research was more rushed, as, by the time we got to it, we were under deadlines. But, the entire process—the research, writing, editing, photos, all of it!—was, as Kathy said, a career highlight.

A non fiction book’s layout and visuals are essential components to making it appealing.
The simple cleanness of  We've Got A Job's layout allowed the black and white photographs to stand out even more. Did you have much say in the final over all look?

Peachtree asked my opinion several times about the design—for instance, the bars that separate the sub-sections, the look of the sidebars. But, they created the look, the layout of the pages, etc. And, I’m thrilled with what they produced. All of the reviews mention the design, and I give Peachtree all the credit.

Your husband, Sandy Levinson released a non fiction title this year called Framed: America’s 51 Constitutions and the Crisis of Governance, and your older daughter, Meira Levinson, also just published a non fiction book, called No Citizen Left Behind.

Since you come from a family that gravitates towards nonfiction, what do you believe can be done to make young readers want seek out non fiction for the pure joy of it?

Stories trump all! I don’t think there is—or, should be—a way to “make” children read nonfiction. However, youngsters will naturally veer toward the truth if it’s conveyed through dramatic stories. Meira taught eighth grade  before becoming a university professor, and every chapter of her book opens with extended vignettes about her experiences with her students .

Sandy, too, relates stories; his tend to be political—about the ramifications for today of the US Constitution and the way it was written. Juicy or alarming tidbits—anything that makes readers say, “aha!”—keeps them involved and seeking more.

Be sure to check out the other  day 3 interviews
Amy Reed @ Stacked
Rosemary Clement-Moore @ Finding Wonderland

SBBT Schedule 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Tanita Davis Interview ( 2012 Summer Blog Blast Tour)

Tanita Davis has been one half of the YA author blog Finding Wonderland since 2005. Her third novel, Happy Families was just released last month. Like the author's previous works, the family dynamic is well executed. I am very happy to have the opportunity to interview Tanita Davis about her latest novel for day two of 2012 SBBT

Hi. Tanita and welcome. Can you tell us a little about Happy Families?

Happy Families is a love story to families, if that’s not too abstruse. It’s about unconditional love, and going the distance in the name of love, no matter how far that takes you from what you might think everyone else is doing. It’s about fear and doing things anyway. It’s …complicated, a bit.

The cover flap tells you it’s about a set of twins who have to come to terms with their father’s new life. That’s as good a description as any.

You give a quick glimpse of Ysabel and Justin’s life before their father's secret is revealed. Did you develop the twins’ back stories more in drafting? I only ask because while the before was concise, it was still an excellent set up for the after.

Thanks. No, I didn’t write a whole bunch more backstory for the twins – it’s my own imaginary Happy Family scenario – parents who are both happy in themselves and deeply invested in the kids, kids who both have challenging and fun hobbies and are invested in each other – loving but not too much in each other’s faces. It was easy to write because it was a familiar dream. I didn’t – don’t – have that family. My people are greatly beloved, but hardly idyllic.

A little bonus fact: I wrote Ysabel’s backstory twice because originally she was in orchestra, and my editor said that there were too many YA novels with female characters who played cellos. I had no idea! (I still have no idea!) I was slightly annoyed at the time, since the cello is my Secret Longed-For Instrument (along with the balalaika and the dulcimer), but I’m just as glad now that I changed her focus, and thus changed her entire personality. Also, I got into lamp working and beads and jewelry making just from the research. Pretty much anything that lets me have even a tiny torch to begin with, and ends with jewelry? Is A Good Thing.

While the family must come to terms with the father's second identity as Christine, one thing that is never in question is their faith. I really appreciated how well the family’s faith is blended into the storyline. Why do you think religion and faith can be difficult to balance in fiction?

Well, the question is taking for granted that I do think that. I don’t. Perhaps I should clarify – maybe religion can be difficult to balance in fiction, but faith? No.

When I say “faith,” I don’t mean a kind of outward thing that people do, the denomination to which they belong, the external trappings of organized institutions. The externals are religion – what others may use to define you, or how they may wish to label/categorize you. The internal is faith.

Faith touches every part of a person’s life, so writing about it – writing from that personal context – should be the simplest balancing act in the world. (Please note the word Should!) I agree that it’s not always easy, not for everyone.

There are reasons why it’s not – in this society we so fear to offend that we’ve all made sure to homogenize so that we cannot possibly be found to be wrong or different or worse, strange. In the political arena, we’ve created offense to be an art form – just look at how many teacup tempests boil over, and how many apologies on behalf of entire peoples and nations are demanded on a weekly basis. We are locked and loaded and sometimes seem to be spoiling for a fight. The result? People take no chances, and make no waves… which creates timid, boring writers, and an eternal sameness in the fictional landscape.

We shouldn’t want to shove our faith in anyone’s faces – shoving is rude. But, when the fear of being seen as trying to proselytize – or the fear of being labeled as earnest or fanatical or tragically unhip – actually causes us to attempt to hold back or only write from our center selectively, then we’re throttling our voices, which is going to create terrible writing.

This is not to say that every novel by a person of faith must contain theological treatise. It’s just that, as Sara Zarr says, a writer writes from her or his worldview. If their worldview is centered in faith, whether culturally or spiritually, even in small ways, it will show. And, if a writer remains true to their craft, and doesn’t use their work to “send a message,” bludgeon, or berate, then the faith and the fiction will balance.

While I was reading Happy Families, I couldn't help but think that this novel will be challenged it’s only a manner of when. Is there any part of you that is looking forward to that first challenge? And have you already thought of what your response will be?

Looking forward to…? Wow, really? No. I am actually hoping that this book is not challenged maybe that makes me sound a little naïve.

While I am not a person who flees confrontation, neither am I a person who invites it. For some people, Happy Families may be topically polarizing and unbearably upsetting, I did not write with the intention of creating controversy, challenge, or discomfort to a level where people felt they had to act to protect their children. I deliberately kept the focus of the novel on the most important characters: Ysabel and Justin. This is their story.

There were so many times, during the writing of this novel, when I turned to a note I had written myself, and reminded myself of why I was doing this. There were so many times when my own fears of my own inadequacies in dealing with the subject matter just rose up to overwhelm me. And then I remembered - love is stronger than fear… and if all I was afraid of was exploring and reinforcing the idea that it’s okay to truly love, then I needed a reality check.

As to the rest – I don’t think I’m going to respond to challenges to the book. I don’t know what the etiquette is on that, but my normal conversational rules apply: if someone asks me a question that isn’t rude, I’ll answer if I choose. Otherwise, most challenges occur on a school/public librarian level, and those stalwarts will be the ones talking people through their biggest concerns. I trust that they know their patrons best, and can’t imagine me jumping in would do anything but stir the pot.

The bottom line is, concerned person has to be guided by their beliefs. If they’re of the belief that I am trying to hurt people with this novel, then I can only be sorry, but know in my heart that hurting anyone is never my intention.

I must confess to not liking the cover at first. It wasn't until after I started to read Happy Families that the cover design finally clicked for me. Giving the impression of a family existing as one unit. At least that's what I get from it, please don't burst my bubble if I am wrong. But can you tell us a little about the cover process?

I had a chance to kind of observe the entire design process. I was even asked to submit a conceptual idea, which was a first for me. Together with the design team we came up with the little male/female pictograms. Where we went from there was all over the board. We discussed had four basic pictogram styles, one photographic cover (which was all shoes/feet), and then from there we discussed background colors, spacing, fonts – seven mock-ups later, we eventually decided that none of the designs worked for enough of us. Enter Number Seventeen Productions. They did some fun stuff with the designs for Ned Vizzini’s books (It's Kind of a Funny Story ), and I was eager to see what they had for me.

I was excited when I saw the cover – a pink pictogram with the stereotypical skirted girl figure, a blue pictogram for a stereotypical boy, overlapped… to create a purple one. And okay, your bubble can stay intact: for you, this cover is about family being a single unit.

For me, more than the obvious metaphor the figures represent, the cover hints about the self being comprised of more than we show on the surface; we identify in more ways than what we observe in others. We are both the sum of all of our parts, and more.

One thing I love about the characters you create, you never feel the need to prove their "Blackness", they simply are who they are.  Do you think your desire to simply tell great stories and not create characters that fit into a pre-assumed box has made it difficult for your work to be categorized? Or for you to find an audience?

Coe Booth was recently quoted in The Atlantic Wire’s piece, “The Ongoing Problem of Race in YA fiction” She talked about how authors of color are at times perceived to have some greater responsibility with their work, and that sometimes a book is … just a book. DEFINITELY, some people are automatically turned off by the covers of my books depicting people of color, definitely turned off by knowing that I am a person of color – there’s a lot of assumption about the types of stories a writer of color tells. However, I’m not sure it’s specifically down to not fitting into a pre-assumed box within writers of color -- it could always just be the way I write!

In grad school, an intense Latino woman cornered me one day and asked me why I wasn’t “representing” more, and really said some hard words about my community and my experience, and what I wasn’t doing right. I think of her from time to time, and hope that she understands that there’s no such thing as one experience and one community, for anyone of any gender, ethnicity, color or faith. If readers can remember that, they’ll find their choice of reading widens dramatically.

There's a real easiness to your writing that I like with the story always unfolding naturally from the dialogue to the situations. What do you think is the foundation of good writing?

Thank you. The foundation of good writing to me is intense, active listening, and close reading. The best writers have words swirling in their bloodstreams, and in their breath and bone. I encourage fledgling writers to read, read, read, and try their hand at expressing their world. Great stories flow from there.

The desire of the Nicholas family to find their happy again is something everyone can relate to. Do you think readers will be more accepting of differences after reading Happy Families?

I certainly hope so.  Ashley Hope Pérez wrote a blog essay - Happy Families is the antidote to the "I'm Christian unless"... disease, which resonated with me. She speaks eloquently on the message of this book for her, and people who were raised in conservative communities like her. She talks about the glossary in the back as kind of being the first step to an action plan – I can change the way I speak about this today. It is her belief that these faith communities will be better able to embrace this book than might be expected. I support her belief, and anticipate thoughtful action and support from those who wish to choose love over exclusion, and acceptance over mere tolerance.

Do you plan on doing any author events either in person or via Skype?

I’m currently in Scotland, and I’ve been here just shy of five years. In that time, Tech Boy has gone from Mr. to Dr. (he came to do one degree, and is leaving with two), and it’s time for us to leave. Far from being ready to “get back to normal,” whatever that is, I’m voting we go somewhere else adventurous, so stay tuned for where we end up! Meanwhile, I do Skype visits with Seton Hill University and Oakwood School almost every year. I’m interviewed by individual students and correspond with quite a few. People can contact me through my website.

I plan to be in the United States this summer, and while I haven’t got book things quite lined up just yet, keep an eye on my website and my blog – I’ll be around!

Be sure to check out the other Day 2 interviews. 

Timothy Decker @ Chasing Ray
Y.S. Lee @ The YA YA YAs

A comprehensive roundup of the tour

Monday, June 11, 2012

Nalo Hopkinson Interview (2012 Summer Blog Blast Tour)

Welcome to the first day of  2012 Summer Blog Blast Tour. This week eight bloggers will be sharing various interviews, all of which will be linked back to Chasing Ray.

Nalo Hopkinson is an award winning fantasy author, The Chaos her YA debut has received three starred reviews. I was very excited when I heard about this book back in December.  With there being so few YA fantasy authors of color, when an established one decides to write one, its a reason to cheer.
Hi Nalo and welcome. Can you tell us a little about The Chaos?
NH: Thanks for the welcome! Now, I suck at synopsizing my own work.Easiest for people to read the publisher's blurb. Basically, my protagonist, Sojourner "Scotch Bonnet" Smith, is a 16 year-old Toronto girl. Her nickname comes from the Jamaican scotch bonnet pepper, one of the hottest peppers in existence. Scotch is biracial. Her parents transferred her from one high school to another because she was being slut-shamed by the girls in her previous school. She's just broken up with her boyfriend although she still cares for him. She's also begun seeing things that no-one else can see, and there's something chasing her.

Why is Scotch self conscious about not having a Caribbean accent?
NH: Scotch's mother is black middle-class American, and her father is white working-class Jamaican. She's proud of what she is. People who have eyes to see can tell that she is black (though not everyone has eyes to see!). So she feels as though she's representing for the maternal part of her heritage. But no-one can see her Jamaicanness, i.e. her father's side of her heritage. She thinks it would be more obvious if she had a Jamaican accent. She also thinks it'd be something clear and simple that she could claim. Everything about her is so hybridized that although she's not ashamed of it, she doesn't have any easy markers of authenticity. She feels the pressure of that.

She doesn't have an easily definable identity, and that can make a person feel lost, like they don't belong anywhere, like they can't claim affiliation with any one group. Canada as a nation wrestles with what it means to be Canadian, so that comes into play a bit, too. It's most obvious in the scene in the bar where Scotch is scoffing at the MC who tries to seem more authentically black by talking in something like an American accent and by name-checking only black American musicians and musical stylings. It's a dilemma for many -- not all --young black Canadians as they try to self-define. On this continent, blackness is seen as synonymous with black Americanness. If they don't look and act like what people associate with American blackness, they get seen as weird, inauthentic.

After the Chaos everyone is changed in some way. What says more about a  person, the transformation or whether or not they are accepting of it?
I think it depends on the transformation and on the person. The woman who's now sprouting roses even though she's allergic to them might not be so sanguine about her new biology. And Scotch's change --i.e. the appearance of the creature that's stalking her -- she could be hurt.

 A rolling calf and Baba Yaga, are a part in the story. Caribbean and Russian folklore fusion was unexpected but works. Why did you decide to blend the two?
I'm glad that you think they work! I also invoked the firebird, the phoenix, the roc, the simurgh, the kappa, Anansi, Brer Rabbit, Tinkerbell, and Sasquatch. Others I just plain made up. People from the cultures all those mythologies are from live in Toronto, so it made sense to mix things up. Like Scotch's life, mine is also hybridized. It rarely makes sense for me to just pick one thing.

Beyond having an author of color pen a new YA fantasy, I was excited about your, YA debut because I knew it included a diverse cast including gay and lesbian characters. In your novels for the most part everyone is accepting of everyone else. Is this a true reflection of Canada or what you would like Canada to be?
I tried to mix it up; to show both acceptance and prejudice. Punum's dad kicked her out when she came out to him. Scotch's homophobia, classism and ableism peek through in a couple of places. She herself has to deal with people's racism. And almost everyone in her school is phobic about the three students who are in   relationship together. Toronto has a large population of lgbtiq people. I myself am queer-identified and have been blessed with the experience of having community in Toronto (communities of all kinds, actually). So I know what it's like to move in circles where the gender of the people you find attractive isn't necessarily an issue. It's not like that everywhere, even in Canada. So for me it's a healing balm to be able to bring some of that acceptance into my writing.

Do you see yourself writing another YA novel?
Yes, I can see myself writing more YA. In the time that I was writing The Chaos, I also completed my first YA novelette ("Ours Is the Prettiest", in the anthology "Welcome to Bordertown", edited by Ellen Kushner and Holly Black), and my first YA short story ("The Easthound", coming out in the anthology "After", edited by Ellen Datlow). I should point out that my first two novels, although I didn't write them specifically for young adults, were put on "Books for the Teen Age", the annual YA bibliography compiled by the YA librarians of the New York Public Library.

I like the meatiness that I'm seeing in YA, where authors are finding all kinds of creative ways to wrestle with issues that used to be verboten in YA, but that young adults face all the time. Some parents have been dismayed that in "The Chaos" my characters talk about sex and sexuality in the ways that many teenagers do. I sympathize. I went through a period of horripilations at the beginning of writing the novel as I tried to figure out how to tackle sex and sexuality. For me, it came down to this; I do think it's age-appropriate. We call them young _adult_ readers for a reason. Yes, they're young and relatively inexperienced and we want to protect them, but they're also growing up. They're thinking about and talking about and in many cases doing this stuff. I didn't put any explicit sex scenes in the book.

And my protagonist is sexually active, but not if the guy won't use a condom. Many sexually active teen girls are reluctant to insist on their own safety. She does insist on it. I haven't yet heard from any readers who think that the violence, homophobia, ableism and racism in the book aren't age-appropriate. But sex does make some readers balk. Thing is, if you're very conservative, you're probably not going to like my writing anyway. Literature is art, and one of the jobs of art is to shake you out of your comfort zone, make you think.

I really enjoyed The Chaos for its uniqueness, though it has polarized readers and critics. Are you surprised that there is no  middle ground, either you like it or don't response to The Chaos?

 A little, yes. I've expected it for other novels of mine, but no from this one. Some readers are put off because I don't explain the reasons for The Chaos. That was a deliberate decision on my part, though. A few readers have come to the conclusion that Scotch is troubled by being biracial. I see how they could read it that way, but in my mind, Scotch has no trouble with her racial heritages; it's other people who do, and who make her life difficult because of it. Some readers are put off by how much diversity and identity figure in the story, and some love it. That I expected. Some readers love that the novel has a secondary character of "invisible" (most days) disabilities, but I'm still figuring out ways I might approach the issue in my fiction. I think the character of Punum is my first significant try at it.

There are three more  Day 1 Interviews
Kate Milford @ Chasing Ray
Randa Abdel Fattah  @ Crazy Quilts
Tim Lebbon @ Little Willow

And once again a full round up  of all the interviews can always be found here.