Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Bad Boy - Dream Jordan

Bad Boy by Dream Jordan
Kate has been in the foster care system for a few years. The reader was first introduced to Kate in Jordan's debut Hot Girl. By the end Kate was living was a loving couple that wanted her in their home, leaving the tough girl persona behind. In this continuation Kate must return to a group home due to unfortunate circumstances.

When the novel opens Kate is leaving Bed- Stuy for her new foster home in Ocean Parkway. In this new old setting Kate is tested on a daily basis. The other girls don't like Kate and do everything they can to push her buttons.

Bad Boy is set throughout Brooklyn and Kate knows her borough well but still has no one to lean on. Until Percy, a very handsome guy she thought was out of her league, comes along. Everything starts off well between the two, soon Percy's complements are followed by put downs. Kate doesn't know what to make of Percy's two very different temperaments. Though her eyes are wide open after a violent act by Percy that couldn't be reasoned away. Jordan handles the abusive relationship aspect of this novel very well.

One of the things I loved about Bad Boy, is the authro stayed true to her main character. Kate still comes across as no nonsense with street and book smarts (earning straight A's) but she continues making poor choices in friends (Hot Girl) and her current boyfriend. Once again Kate and her situation are believable and realistic. This follow up can be read first but I would highly recommend starting with Hot Girl because its too good to miss.

The blurb on the front cover is by author Coe Booth and its a well deserved endorsement. Bad Boy is a must read for Booth fans. I know it would probably never happen but I would love for Kate and Booth's character Kendra to meet up in a short story. That would be awesome.

Kirkus Review

An excerpt

Monday, February 27, 2012

Ship of Souls - Zetta Elliott

Ship of Souls by Zetta Elliott
After 11 yr old Dmitri, who goes by D loses his mother to cancer, he's placed in foster care and goes to live with Mrs. Martin. Just happy to have a place to live, D is on his best behavior. D's only indulgence is bird watching in the park and he keeps to himself at school. D's status as a loner is challenged after he finds himself hanging out by chance with two of the popular kids, Hakeem and Nyla.

D's life changes forever after coming to the aid of a Bird that is anything but, its a being that goes by the name Nuru can take on any shape of its choosing. D has been selected has a host to assist Nuru in bringing peace to millions African American souls by providing them with a way to finally pass over. Though the friendship is newly formed Hakeem and Nyla will not let D do this alone.

When I finished it the first time I thought it was good. I loved the characters. They made the story for me. One of the things I love about Elliott's writing is she knows how to craft dimensional characters. Even the walk- ons, will leave an impression. Though at times this skill can lead the reader astray. I found myself being wanting to know more about the characters that were meant only to make a quick appearance. A good example of this was the eclectic group of kids that sit at Nyla's lunch table and embrace their freak status.

While this is D's story from beginning to end, Elliott still makes room for Hakeem and Nyla, sharing enough about both to paint a clear picture. Much of the appeal for all three characters comes from the fact that they easily come across as real teenagers, with distinct voices. The three had good chemistry together and I would've liked at least another chapter in which they got to know each other better.

The guiding spirit that goes by the name Nuru has the task of helping the dead who want to pass over to find eternal peace. Though Nuru has been held captive for 100 of years and unable to help the souls of many African Americans that died around the time of the American Revolution cross over. Nuru elects D has is host to complete this quest. When Nuru first appears I didn't know if D could trust this being or if it was simply using D has a host to accomplish its mission without any concern for his well being. I liked not knowing, it kept me on my toes.

The first time in I felt Ship of Souls had a few unexplored threads but there was still a lot to like about it. Beyond the characters its visually amazing. When the kids finally found the room where the African American souls were trapped, Elliott had my heart. She describe sorrow with such beauty. Also Elliott's writing is strong and crisp. There are moments and lines that are hard not to be moved by. The first time in I wished Ship of Souls was longer. However when I read it again I was more okay with the length (though I still wanted an extra chapter in which the three friends get to know each other better) and everything came together better.

Everything I enjoyed the first time was still there and I found a few more things to appreciate. Ship of Souls is claffisified as YA but comes across as more MG. Ages 11 up. The chapters are short making this an excellent choice for reluctant readhers. The cover wasn't final until around mid or late Janurary I believe but I think it was well worth the wait. I really like it and believe it has some serious eye appeal.

An excerpt
Starred Booklist review
Edi's review

Disclaimer aka putting it all out there - I am friends with the author and she sent me a review and finished copy from the author. Since some will think the line might be a bit blurred (which is understandable) I plan to link to more reviews of Ships of Soul once they become available. Though if you are worried about this reviews credibitility (though I hope you aren't ) I highly recommend reading the excerpt, the booklist review and the few reviews on amazon.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Boy who Harnessed the Wind - Young Readers Edition

The Boy who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer illus. by Elizabeth Zunon

Kamkwamba and Mealer got together again to create a young readers edition of Kamkwamba's best selling memoir. This time there's limited amount of space to share his story (32 pages) yet it still has the power to move readers of any age. I love how clearly everything comes across from the problems due to no rain full, to Kamkwamba's love of family and homeland to his dream and desire to bring positive change.

He saw the machine drawing cool water from the ground.
Sending it gushing through the thirsty fields
Turning the maize tall and green,
Even when farmers prayers went unanswered
This windmill was more than a machine
It was a weapon to fight hunger

Zunon's illustrations are gorgeous and a perfect fit for this story. I loved her earth tone color palate. I am a sucker for good collage and Zunon is great.

Read The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind for free and support the We Give Books campaign. (A win win)

I've linked this post to Black History Month Hop which is being hosted Reflections of a Bookaholic and Mocha Girls Read.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

African American Read In (Ninth Ward)

I am hosting this Read In with two other bloggers, Edi from Crazy Quilts. and Vasilly from 1330v. This year’s read-in book is The Ninth Ward by Jewell Park Rhodes. My interview with the author. Readers are welcome to join at anytime.

Ninth Ward is the story of a young girl living in New Orleans right before Hurricane Katrina. Since the book’s publication in 2010, it’s been nominated and listed as a best book by several organizations including Goodreads, School Library Journal, and 2011-2012 The Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award. Ninth Ward was also a 2010 middle grade fantasy Cybils finalists and a 2011 Coretta Scott King honor.

My first question is strange but here it is anyway. Many times when I read novels, I find myself moved by its rhythms and tempo that I associate with a particular genre of music. That being said what genre of music does Ninth Ward bring to mind? (Sometimes it helps to visual it)

The setting of New Orleans could be considered a character in its own right. How well do you think the author developed this central piece of Ninth Ward? If there anything you would've changed or wanted more of?

Vasilly had some great questions on Monday and be sure to check out Edi's questions on Friday.

I've linked this post to the Black History Month Hop

Monday, February 20, 2012

Panther Baby - Jamal Joseph

Panther Baby by Jamal Joseph
In 1968, Joseph joined the Black Panther party when he was 15 yrs old. In 1969, he was the youngest Black Panther arrested in the infamous Panther 21 case. Joseph recounts his time as a Black Panther, what attracted him to the party in the first place and the social/ political climate in which the party was needed in the first place. Panther Baby was engaging, hard to put down and one of the best memoirs I've read in a long time.

Panther Baby is marketed toward adults, since much of the memior is focused on Joseph's teen years its has wonderful teen crossover appeal. While reading it I found myself thinking about Magoon's The Rock and The River and wondering about Stick the brother of the main character Sam, who joined the Black Panthers.

Panther Baby is a 2012 favorite.
Publishers Weekly review
Kirkus review
Read a lengthy excerpt and enjoy the great trailer

I've linked this post to Black History Month Hop which is being hosted by Reflections of Bookaholic and Mocha Girls Read

Friday, February 17, 2012

Jazz Age Josephine - Jonah Winter, Marjorie Priceman

Jazz Age Josephine by Jonah Winter illus. by Marjorie Priceman
I never thought there would ever be a picture book biography on Josephine Baker so I was pretty psyched about this one. Plus Winter has an excellent track record and the bio lived up to my high hopes.

Winter's text has a great rhythmic quality to it.
People, listen to my story, bout a girl named Josephine
People listen to this story, bout a poor girl name of Josephine
She was the saddest little sweetheart this side of New Orleans.

While keeping the stories tempo, Winter is able to get across the racial tension that lead to Baker moving to France.

She kept dancin,
that girl, she never got tired
until one night when her whole world changed
the night St. Louis caught on fire.
Check Spelling
Winter mentions when Baker appeared in blackface and he handles that scene with the care it deserves. This is an excellent introduction to Josephine Baker. Priceman's colorful and beautiful illustrations fit the text perfectly and add an extra bit of pop.

There is a half a page author's note with more information about Baker but no timeline. I am a stickler for timeline and wish Winter had included one. However, I'd still recommend Jazz Age Josephine: Dancer, singer who's that, who? Why, that's Miss Josephine Baker, to you! without missing the beat.

An excerpt via publisher

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

On Sale Now : New Releases (And Read In Reminder)

The following are new releases for the month of February, that I am aware of which feature characters of color or a diverse cast.

But first a quick reminder that the African American Read In that will be co hosted by Edi, Vasilly and myself starts this Monday. The book we will be discussing is Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes. Everyone is welcomed, even if you haven't finished the book yet.

Best Shot in the West by Patricia C. McKissack, Fredrick McKissack illus. Randy Duburke

Taking the Lead by Stephanie Perry Moore and Derrick C. Moore
We’ve Got a Job: the 1963 Birmingham Children’s March by Cynthia Levinson
No Crystal Stair by Vaunda Michaux Nelson

DJ Rising by Love Maia
Beneath a Meth Moon by Jacqueline Woodson
The Knife and the Butterfly by Ashley Hope Perez

The Clone Codes #3 by Patricia C. McKissack, Fredrick McKissack and Pat McKissack
Diabolical by Cynthia Leitich Smith

On the Flip Side by Nikki Carter
The Galahad Legacy by Dom Testa
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

The Jade Notebook by Laura Resau
Ship of Souls by Zetta Elliott

Traitor in the Tunnel by Y. S. Lee
Bad Boy by Dream Jordan

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Oopsy Daisy - Lauren Myracle

Oopsy Daisy by Lauren Myracle
Milla, Yasaman, Violet and Katie-Rose are in the fifth grade and are best friends. This the third book in this series and they just keep getting better. The four friends have very distinct personalities and each is given a chance to shine. Much of the stories beauty lies in the authenticity of the girls voices. I really appreciate the natural ease in which diversity is embraced amongst the four friends. It doesn't feel forced nor does Myracle shy away for it. The author is also doing an excellent job of building the world about the main characters, from their families, to could be boyfriends to the mean girls. The various stories of Milla, Yasaman Violet and Katie-Rose blend together very well.

Read an excerpt

As an added bonus since I love the goodness that is this series, an excerpt of book 1, Luv Ya Bunches, which is available in paperback.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Words Set Me Free by Lesa Cline-Ransome illus. by James E. Ransome

Words Set Me Free by Lesa Cline-Ransome illus. by James E. Ransome
This is the story of a young Frederick Douglass, born Frederick Bailey, before he escaped to freedom. Cline- Ransome places Douglass in the roll of narrator, as opposed to simply stating the facts. I thought this was a very smart move, allowing readers to better connect with Douglass.

"Much of my time was my own as I was not yet old enough to work the fields. We ate our two meals a day out of a trough just like the animals in the barn. We were always hungry so we shoved down our meals of cornmeal mush with shells and dirty hands. But even the animals were rested in the heat of the afternoon sun, and they were never whipped bloody for being too tired or too sick or too slow."

The above is from the second page, adjacent to the text is a picture of young slaves eating out of a trough. For me those two pages were the most powerful. Ransome paints the ugliness with such beauty. As the biography progresses Douglass comes more into himself, allowing people to get a glimpse of the men he would become.

"For seven years I worked for my master and his missus down at the shipyard, lifting and laboring, and back at their house, toting and hauling- always pretending to be something I was not - content to be a slave."

This Word Set Me Free, is a very fitting title, when Douglass understands the power of words he's determined to learn how to read regardless of the consciousness.

This was a good biography on Frederick Douglass. The longer I look at it the more I appreciate how well the text and illustrations complement each other.

The author includes an epilogue. There is also an author's note and a small timeline. The author was able to incorporate many names and states throughout the biography but few dates. So I would've liked more back matter including a longer timeline.

An excerpt via publisher

I've linked this post to Non fiction Monday, this weeks round up is at Wrapped in Foil.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Look At Me Reading Non Fiction/Sunday NYT Book Review

I currently have four nonfiction titles on my currently reading goodreads shelf

Words Set Me Free: The Story of Young Frederick Douglass by Lesa Cline-Ransome illus. by James E. Ransome
Jazz Age Jospehine by Jonah Winter illus. by Margorie Priceman
We've Got a Job by Cynthina Levinson
Abraham Lincoln & Frederick Douglass: the story behind an American Friendship by Russell Freedman
Panther Baby by Jamal Joesph

I usually read fiction, so four NF titles at one time is a lot for me. I've acutally finished all of them though I won't move to read column until I've reviewed them. I go back and forth about how I feel about Black History Month, but like it or not it gets me every year. And I am cool with being pushed out of my comfort zone if it means reading more engaging books like the ones mentioned above.

Words Set Free and We've Got A Job are two books mentioned in this weeks Sunday New York Times about books for Black History Month

Friday, February 10, 2012

2012 Pura Belpre Honorees Video Edition

The 2012 Youth Media Awards were handed out last month. I thought I'd share the videos by the Latino authors and illustrators who received a Pura Belpre award.

Diego Rivera: His World and Ours by Duncan Tonatiuth

The Cazuela that the Farm Maiden Stirred by Samantha R. Vamos illus. by Rafael Lopez.

Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia Mccall

Maximilian & the Mystery of the Guardian Angel by Xavier Garza

Hurricane Dancers by Margarita Engle

I couldn't find a video for one honoree- Sara Palacios illustrator of Marisol McDonald Doesn't Match/Marisol McDonald no combina by Monica Brown - There's a used copy on sale at amazon for 1,068.77 + shipping, Over a $1,000 and seller can't cover shipping. Cuesto mucho mucho dinero no bueno. Es muy loco. I hope no one is foolish enough to buy that. Since its a used copy Brown and Palacios will not get any residuals.

A lot of these titles are on back order, the publishers have to print more (reprint) to meet the demand. This is a good thing, it means the Pura Belpre award is having the intended effect, people are seeking out the books and diversifying their library

So if there's a book on here that you want and it happens to be on back order, go ahead and place your order, that way publishers are aware of the demand and then wait for the reprint. More copies should be available in a few weeks. Whatever you do, do not buy the used copies. I love used books when they're like three or five bucks. But not when the used copies cost more than the retail price of the book. Sellers making a larger profit than the authors really pisses me off. So wait for the reprint to let authors, illustrators and their publishers can get the credit they deserve. And don't forget to check the your local biblioteca.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Hill Harper's New Multicultural Children's Imprint

On Feb 1. Publishers Weekly wrote an article on Hill Harper* starting a new multicultural children's imprint with YA author Pamela Wells. Maybe Harper's star power will lead to some strong financial backing and interest leading to something good. Though for right now I will simply sit back and see what happens but I won't get my hopes up. Truthfully I am a little wary after reading in the PW article that Harper plans to seek celebrity friends to write books with positive messages.

Firstly, there are a lot of talented authors of color waiting to be discovered or who have published a great first novel and are having a hell of time getting a second or third novel acquired. Sadly sometimes I think publishers think authors of color are interchangeable. I have read a lot of very good debuts and still more with tons of potential by authors of color then I never hear from them again.

Secondly I find the phrase books with positive messages very cringe worthy. I think publishers should look for great stories and if they happen to have a good messages so be it. When the message is the primary focus, while the authors intentions are good the story can become too heavy handed.

The first book to be published by Harper & Wells Books will be Wiley Boys by Harper its a middle grade sports novel. When I saw that I got a little excited because there aren't enough Black male middle grade and young adult authors. But then I saw the cover on goodreads, it was so bad my excitement went adios. That cover screams "pick up anything else but whatever you do don't read me." I don't know what happened maybe it was a case of The Emperor's New Clothes and the people around Harper were too scared to tell him what they really thought of the cover. Whatever the reason Harper & Wells Books needs to understand and respect the importance of a good cover. According to the PW article Wiley Boys is slated to come out later this month. I could not find a website for Harper & Wells Books.

I am all for more diverse children's books being published so I wish Hill Harper and Pamela Wells luck on this new endeavor. Hopefully after reading this article people will want to seek out some of the great multicultural children's that are currently available . If don't know where to look or need help selecting the right book check out The Birthday Party Pledge and make use of the Help Hotline. Several people including myself would be more then happy to give a few personalized recommendations.

I've linked this post to Black History Month Hop. This weeks topic is the Business of Black Books

Ironically I am watching CSI NY on as I write this and Harper just came on the screen.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

No Crystal Stair - Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

No Crystal Stair by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson illus. by R. Gregory Christie
This is a documentary novel of the life and work of Lewis Michaux. Nelson begins this look into Michaux life, in 1906 when he was a young boy growing up in Virgina. The documentary novel is broken up into several sections. Within each the reader learns more about Lewis Michaux and his journey to starting the National Memorial African American bookstore in Harlem, in the 1940's. It was the first Black owned and operated bookstore in the world.

When Michaux decided to open a bookstore the odds were against him. The great depression had recently ended, and there were few publishers catering to Black authors or books about the Black experience. When Michaux decided to take a chance and secure a loan I feel completely in love with No Crystal Stair. There was simply something about Michaux determination, which Nelson does an excellent job of getting across to the reader.

The documentary aspect of this novel can be found in the FBI files on Mixhaux, included throughout, or the photographs of people essential to the civil rights movements, like Malcom X and Black Panthers shopping at the Bookstore. Nelson delves into the close relationship Michaux had with Malcolm X. There are also a lot of other wonderful photographs, including exterior shots of the bookstore.

In an effort to give readers a full picture of the impact Lewis Michaux and his bookstore had on the Black community, Nelson created a few characters, like Snooze, a young teenager Micahux encourages to read for free in the back of the store. All the characters fit seamlessly into the narrative. The book is illustrated by R. Greogory Christie. He uses a light touch which complements the text nicely. No Crystal Stair is a 2012 favorite.

An excerpt
Starred Kirkus Review
Starred Horn Book Review

My interview with Vaunda Nelson at White Readers Meet Black Authors

Reflections of a Bookaholic and Mocha Girls Read are hosting the first annual Black History Month Hop. The 5th -11th is dedicated to the business of Black Books. And I do believe a documentary novel about Lewis Michaux fits the bill.

Monday, February 6, 2012

My Thanks,Guest Post, The Black History Month Hop

I read and loved No Crystal Stair by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson via netgalley. It's a documentary novel about Lewis Michaux who opened the first Black owned bookstore in Harlem, NY. When I finished No Crystal Stair I wanted to interview the author and help expose it to adult readers. I needed help on both counts. Nelson's lastest novel along with her last one Bad News for Out Laws was illustrated by R. Gregory Christie. When I couldn't find any contact information for the author, I reached out to Christie who kindly put me in touch with the author. Then I reached out to author Carleen Brice who runs the blog White Readers Meet Black Authors After I told Brice what novel was about, she nice enough to let me post the interview with Nelson at WRMBA. Thanks so much to R. Gregory Christie and Carleen Brice for the help.

No Crystal Stair has recieved two starred reviews, Kirkus and Horn Book. The interview will be up sometime this week at WRMBA. I loved Nelson's answers. Since I geared it towards an adult audience I purposely left off two questions, I will share those here sometime later.

For the rest of the month I will be The Black History Month Hop, which is being hosted by Reflections of a Bookaholic and Mocha Girls Read. So many of my post will have

attached at the bottom. Inculding the Online African American Read In, I am hosting with Edi and Vasilly. It starts on Monday Feb. 20 we will be reading Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes. Anyone and everyone is free to join in.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Ashley Hope Perez Interview

Ashley Hope Perez's debut What Can't Wait was one of my favorite books last year and I am honored to be a part of her blog tour. Today I have the pleasure of hosting the author, as we talk about her newest release The Knife and the Butterfly. My review

Hi Ashley, can you tell us a little about The Knife and the Butterfly?

Of course! It follows two teens through the aftermath of a gang fight, but it also cuts back into what happened in their lives leading up to the day they met. Actually, I’m in awe of how well my publisher framed things, so here’s the jacket copy to get you all intrigued.

I must confess after reading the book blurb my first thought was “oh, no, a gang novel.” I was still going to read it but didn't have high hopes. I can say this all now because I've already read and really enjoyed The Knife and the Butterfly. I know it’s still early, but have you heard similar confessions?

Yours is the first confession, but I was very aware of how problematic writing about gangs can be. I didn’t want to glamorize or demonize Azael or his gang. MS-13 has been called “the deadliest gang,” and it’s definitely no joke. But at the same time, most of my research pointed to the fact that, in Houston at least, lots of youths involved with gangs like MS-13 are not highly organized or militarized like their counterparts in South America.

But this is not just an issue of veracity; it’s one of tone and balance. I think the reader learns how to filter Azael’s portrayal of his experiences, taking into account the bravado in his words when he describes his affiliation and past “accomplishments” with his gang. And I think the reader detects the sincerity in his desire to start anew and keep the people he loves clear of MS-13.

One of the first things I noticed is while Azael is in MS-13, he has the qualities of a leader and is not defined by his gang (even though he believes otherwise). How does this Azael compare to the Azael of the first draft?

Azael has pretty much been Azael since I first started imagining him. (Lexi was another story; she evolved a lot from draft to draft.) At first, I knew most about the Azael of the “Now” sections, and he could really piss me off (the way he thinks about women, for example). But I kept asking myself, who was he before he was this Azael? Where are the traces of those other selves, and what are the memories that he clings to—or that haunt him?

That process of discovery—and the boy I found under all the swagger—was what made me want to save Azael and give him the closest thing to a second chance that’s possible in his world.

Azael is a graffiti artist, using empty walls or trains throughout Houston as his canvas. Before you wrote the Knife and the Butterfly, what did you think of graffiti art (if you thought of it and all) And did your opinion change when you finished the novel?

I had noticed graffiti and spray-painted stuff in my environment while living in Houston, but I could never have told you the difference between a tag, a throw-up, and a piece. Nor would I have labeled myself a serious appreciator of street art.

I’m still firmly in the camp of “Don’t Mess Up Other People’s Stuff,” but as I learned about canning, I came to understand what making a mark on the city’s face might mean to a teen like Azael. The most powerful aspect of that discovery was that my own reasons for writing mapped pretty well onto Azael’s reasons for canning. Go figure. There is tons of graffiti inside the metro tunnels here in Paris, and as I commute, if I’m too tired to read, I watch it roll pass and try to imagine the need to be seen behind it.

Why did you decide use a real gang ?

A couple of reasons. The most obvious is that the novel was inspired by an actual event that involved MS-13. So I let reality take the lead in that respect. Going with MS-13 gave me a clear direction in my research: I knew I needed to learn about their hand signs, the “rules” of initiation and involvement, linguistic patterns, and so on. One reader living in Houston emailed me recently and described how, driving around, she kept thinking about “the other Houston” that the characters experienced. I don’t think you can get that kind of grounding with a fictional gang. At least, I don’t think I can do it. I like particularity.

There's an ease to your use of street vernacular (unlike some novels where it comes across has forced). Did your students give you any helpful feedback in regards to Azael’s slang?

Thanks for the compliment; I’m glad the language felt natural. I know there were kids in gangs at the high school where I taught, but I never knew who. Perhaps it was willful ignorance... I just didn’t feel equipped to deal with that knowledge. My students did tell me about the hostility between Salvadoran and Mexican-American immigrants. (Readers get a few tastes of this, like when Eddie complains about how “Mexicans never flush” their toilet paper or when Azael and P├íjaro complain about Tejano music.)

I spent a lot of time reading first-person gang narratives and interviews with MS-13 members to pick up the right slang. Learning how street writers talk about their work (heaven spots, throw-ups, pieces, fat tips, skinny tips, buffing…) was another job.

Were there any words or phrases that you thought were current but were sadly dated?
It’s funny, it was actually kind of the opposite. I never would have thought to use the word “rumble,” for example, to describe a gang fight. To me, that word just screams The Outsiders and sounds totally forced. But it was all over the place in these interviews, so I learned how it fit into Azael’s speech.

Midway in, the reader is introduced Lexi, who like Azael finds herself thinking about past choices. What do you believe was harder for both characters, the remembering of deeds done or the actions themselves?

Definitely the remembering. Part of why Lexi and Azael struggle with what they’ve done is how little those past choices “weighed” when they made them. It scares me—and this is an inspiration for Azz and Lexi—that really bad decisions often don’t even feel like decisions. It can feel like something that “just happened.”

But we still have to own these actions, finally. This is a big theme in the book, which is probably why the rockstars at Carolrhoda Lab put this bit from Azael on the jacket:

“So I draw. I draw without worrying about what difference it’ll make; I draw because the pencil is in my hand. I draw, and I feel all the Azzs I’ve been, all my choices nested together inside me like the layers of an onion. My pencil is flying because that’s how it is: you choose and you choose and you choose, and that’s your life. That’s what you are.”

I really like the book cover and had a greater appreciation for it once I finished the story. Who was the cover artist?

The designers at my publisher are in charge of the cover work, but I don’t know which of the amazing artists came up with the exact design. I do know that the concept evolved considerably. Check out my guest post at Sarah Laurence's blog on for the inside scoop on the cover art and some of the designs that didn’t get chosen.

The cover is such important part of a novel and I love when I can learn more about it, so I can't wait to check that out.

I've enjoyed a few of your blog entries about living in Paris. After all the delicious food, your arrival post about adjusting to living in a new country is my favorite.

It's been a little over three months since you wrote that; does Paris feel less foreign yet?
Oh, absolutely. We feel like Paris pros now; we have our little routines and our familiar places. When we buy groceries, for example, it’s a whole ordeal, but it’s also a lot of fun. We have our baker, our chicken guy, our fish vendor, our salad and mushroom guy. Liam knows exactly who will give him a free banana or a slice of baguette. Sometimes I think about how weird it will be to return to the States and not get to buy all my groceries without ever getting into the car.

Some things are still mysterious to us, like the point of a strike if it’s announced weeks in advance, or why a government that prides itself on being rigidly secular still has Christian federal holidays. But we’ve learned not to lose sleep over these details.

Does your son know more Spanish, English or French words?

This question made me laugh out loud because the truth is that Liam knows more animal sounds than anything else. He is really good at them! He can do (in order of preference): dog, cow, lion, tiger, elephant, chicken, frog, owl, pig, monkey, sheep, and horse. My favorite is the lion because it comes with a paw swipe. The other day we were coming off the metro; usually, Liam waves bye to everyone, but this time he decided to ROAR! at everyone.

He does have words, too, and they are pretty balanced between the three languages. One thing that is fun to see how he’s already paying attention to who speaks what language. When he skypes with an English speaker, he says “bye-bye,” but when we leave his nursery school, he says, “au revoir.” When I leave the house, I usually get “adios.”

If you could have one thing imported from Houston to Paris for you, what would it be?

Oh, Lord. Just one thing? It would be a warm breakfast taco with a homemade tortilla, eggs, potato, cheese, and tomatillo salsa. Preferably from the Stripes gas station on Howard Drive. (I know that sounds gross, but they have ladies who make the most delicious food, and it’s right by where I used to teach.)

Do you plan on doing any Skype Q&A's for The Knife and the Butterfly?

I haven’t scheduled any yet, but I would love to! Book clubs, classes, the possibilities are endless! So anybody who’s interested should give me a holler.

Ashley, as you know the skype question was originally the last one. And it truly breaks my heart that this couldn't end there but I would be remiss not to mention Tuscon's recent decision to ban the Mexican American Studies Program and removing Latino related books from the classroom curriculum. I've been following Debbie Reese's excellent coverage and the more I read the less I understand. I am totally baffled as to how this could happen and the reasoning behind it.

Are you having any better luck processing this decision? Do you think or worry that Houston the city you call home would ever do the same?

I am still trying to wrap my brain around these actions. They are a blatant attack, not just on Mexican American Studies, but on a view of the world in which there are multiple stories that constitute a given history. The supporters of the house bill that ultimately justified the Tucson action (I have heard from some that Tucson resisted the shut-down; others seem to think they were thrilled to have an excuse to kill MAS) want to deny the complexity of the fabric that makes up the US. They are fine with curricula that "advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals"--so long as the ethnic solidarity promoted is a sanitized version of whiteness, that is, itself, nothing but a myth. When the Irish came to this country, they were often treated in much the same way as recent brown immigrants. That, too, is part of our history. To teach it--or to teach about the oppressive treatment suffered by Mexican Americans and others--is not to incite dissent but to inform of fact.

We cannot address errors of the past by denying them; healing comes through broadened knowledge and dialogue, and the texts that have been recently removed from Tucson schools are powerful tools in that effort. That's why opponents are so keen on getting rid of them. But they know that that isn't enough; the truth is any text can be explored from an ethnic studies perspective (as the example from The Tempest demonstrates), so now district leaders are micromanaging the classroom practices of their teachers. That is scary stuff. I cannot imagine the same happening in HISD, where the success of the district depends on the success of Hispanic students, but who knows. At any rate, I know my teaching would wilt in such an environment, and I would have to think long and hard about what to do--how far to go in my resistance of censorship.

I want to make one last point to bring home the importance and relevance of ethnic studies for all of us. For my third novel, I have done a lot of research about the experiences of Mexican Americans in schools in the 1930s. What stunned me most in reading about the logistics of segregating Mexican-American students in Texas (and I bet the situation was similar in Arizona) was that they were essential forced out of school by sixth grade. Enormously overcrowded classrooms in the "Mexican" schools made learning difficult, putting the students further behind their white peers. On top of that, the school districts in Texas often divided elementary grades into two years ("lower first," "upper first") in "Mexican" schools, causing students to be told that they were "too old" for the grade they should have been able to join in the (white) middle school.

In Houston in the 30s, for example, only a handful of Mexican-Americans (usually lighter skinned) graduated from high school at all despite a significant Hispanic population in the area. They faced discrimination in white schools, and there was no "Mexican" public high school as an option.

I also discovered that, unlike African-Americans, whose teachers--also African-American--were usually committed to helping students use education to combat their circumstances, Mexican-American children were almost invariably taught by white teachers, some of whom found theirs an "undesirable" placement and were quick to underestimate the abilities of their students.
I couldn't have been more sympathetic to the challenges of my Mexican-American students, but--back when I was teaching in high school--I had NO IDEA that this was in our history. There is no way that you can tell me that these events--experienced by parents and grandparents of my students--had no impact on my students' own attitudes toward school. If I'd had the good fortune to take a class like the MAS courses recently axed in Tucson, maybe I would have been more informed.

These stories and experiences matter because they've shaped our shared history. We need to keep talking about them--in Tucson and beyond.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Knife and The Butterfly - Ashley Hope Perez

The Knife and The Butterfly by Ashley Hope Perez
16 yr old Azael lives in Houston and is a member of the MS-13 gang. The day after a fight with another gang, Azael wakes up in lock up and he can't remember how he got there. The chapters alternate between now and then. In the now Azael is in jail trying to remember the fight. He finds himself thinking about his girlfriend Becca and worry about his brother Eddie and the other MS 13 members. In the now Azael is also introduced to Lexi, a White girl he swears he doesn't know. Though Azael quickly learns Lexi might be the key to understanding what happened. In the then, we learn more about Azael, including his passion and love for graffiti art and why he joined a gang in the first place. Azael and Lexi are two very different people, who find themselves in a similar situation. As the story develops both are forced to make life changing decisions.

This is only Perez's second novel though it's clear she already has a talent for creating three dimensional main characters. The reader is allowed to see the many sides of Azeal has he contemplates his future. Then there's Lexi, I didn't know what to make of her at first and by the end I was moved by how the two characters stories intersected. As you can probably already tell I really enjoyed The Knife and the Butterfly and its a wonderful follow up to the author's excellent debut, What Can't Wait.

Read Chapter 1

I will be posting an interview with Ashley Hope Perez tomorrow as a part of her ongoing blog tour. The interview is on the long side but this couldn't be helped because I took the opportunity to ask Perez's her opinion on the recent events in Tuscon. For that question I told Ashley length was not an issue.