Sunday, March 1, 2015

Diversity on the Shelf Reading Challenge: Books Read 1

Here are my first reads (1/5 of the challenge!), in the order I read them, for the Diversity on the Shelf Reading Challenge, hosted by Alysia at My Little Pocketbooks.

All are written by authors of color and all have main characters of color, who all happen to be girls and young women - not planned!

I didn't plan this either, but I'm also delighted by the diversity of genres - 1 memoir in verse,  2 realistic novels, 1 biography in verse, and 1 fantasy novel; and the fact that the settings include 4 countries: the U.S., Cambodia, England, and a fantasy China.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

This much-lauded memoir in verse starts slow and builds almost imperceptibly in power as a young girl comes into her own, discovering her dream: to be a writer.

In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddi Ratner

Raami is 7 when the Khmer Rouge take over Phnom Penh and her family is forced from their home into the countryside. Told through Raami's perceptive eyes, the story follows the family through the next four years, with threads of exquisite beauty woven throughout the tapestry of unspeakable horrors perpetuated by Pol Pot's brutal regime.

She Wore Red Trainers by Na'aima Roberts

Ali and Asmirah are teenagers trying to follow deen, the straight path of devout Muslims, when they meet in a working-class community outside London. Their love story, told from alternating points of view, is sweet, conflicted and real, giving the reader a rare opportunity to glimpse contemporary Muslim life from the inside, in all its complexity.

Becoming Billie Holiday by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Floyd Cooper

Soft, rich sepia-and-white drawings with bits of color illustrate this biography in verse, which follows the singer from her birth in 1915, as Eleanora Fagan, through her difficult, neglected childhood, to her triumph as the 25-year-old Lady Day.

Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon
When Ay Ling's father is gone far too long, she leaves her mother to travel to the capital in search of him. The appearance of terrifying demons makes it clear that her quest to save her father playing out on a far larger canvas. Joined by the handsome Chen Yong and his kid brother, Ay Ling journeys to the home of the Immortals and back.


It's not part of this particular challenge because the main character is white, but I also read Bone by Bone by Bone by Tony Johnston, about a boy coming of age in 1950s small-town Tennessee and his deep friendship with a black boy, over his father's virulent objections. It's full of rich characters who tug at your heart with their humanness and contradictions, and conveys a palpable sense of menace in both the omnipresent racism and in the expected roles for men of that place and time.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Diversity Reading Challenge

I'm joining the Diversity on the Shelf Reading Challenge: 
(Writing a post on my iPad for the first time, and I can't figure out how to imbed a link... Ah, research results say that feature is not available with the Blogger app?!?)

Setting myself the goal of reading 25+ books - picture books count! - 5th shelf level, starting with these:

What's on your shelf for 2015?

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Take Action for Diverse Children's Books

Here's a great report by Charlesbridge Editorial Director Yolanda Scott on the May 14 event, "A Place at the Table."

Yolanda Scott (center) listens to Francisco Stork (right)

Hosted by CBC Diversity, co-sponsored by the Center for the Study of Children’s Literature at Simmons and the Horn Book, and presented in partnership with Children’s Books Boston, the gathering featured six authors (including me) speed-dating by briefly introducing our work at each of six tables, followed by discussion questions with participants about promoting diversity in children's groups. The "diversity" being considered was broad, including race, culture, language, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and physical and mental ability.

The event
"...brought together participants from a wide variety of fields: we had teachers, principals, librarians, authors, illustrators, publishers, agents, academics, reviewers, bloggers—all united in our desire to promote and develop books that more adequately reflect the demographics and realities of the world in which we live."
The report concludes with the action items generated by participants, concrete steps that can be taken to support diverse children's literature in homes, classrooms, libraries, editorial offices, bookstores, writers groups, blogs and websites, book reviews, awards committees, book clubs, summer reading lists, and more. See if there's an idea or two you can use.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Diverse Kids in Peril

Some of the discussion on what's missing in diverse books has focused on the absence of diverse characters in stories that young readers can't wait to pick up.

I've just read three thrillers starring young people who happen to be of color - one Indian American, one Mexican, and one African American (the last two are biracial with one white parent):

Chasing Shadows by Swati Avasthi

Twins Holly and Corey and their best friend/girlfriend Savitri are free-runners whose urban playground is Chicago until a shocking, random act of violence changes their lives forever. Part of the story unfolds in graphic novel format. Savitri's Indian heritage is significant to the plot as her friend Holly gets lost in  the Shadowlands, a world based on the Ramayana myth, and Savitri has to find a way to bring her back.

The Living by Matt de la Pena

"Shy" Espinoza gets hired to work crew on a cruise line for the summer before his senior year of high school. He's on the ship when all hell breaks loose. The over-the-top plot in this page-turner, the first volume of a series, includes an off-the-scale earthquake, tsunamis, a shipwreck, days at sea in a lifeboat, sharks, conspiracies, a pandemic, quite a pile-up of bodies and lots of corrupt bad guys.

The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex

Savitri has to save her friend, Shy may need to save his family, his community or even the entire west coast of the U.S., but Gratuity Tucci has to save the entire world - from an alien invasion. With the help of an alien companion, and a cat. The book, which is to be released as a Dreamworks movie later this year, is written in 12-year-old Gratuity's voice, as a series of essays about her experiences. Suspenseful and highly comical, this story also includes some illustrations and passages in graphic novel format.
Get these books into the hands of young readers who love non-stop action.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Tweet, Tweet

I've just changed my username on Twitter, from @AfterGandhiBks, focusing on a single title,  After Gandhi, to @ DiverseKdzBook,reflecting my wider passion for books in which all our children can see themselves.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Librarians Make the Most of a School Visit

As we leave Children's Book Week, here's an appreciation of children's librarians, the world over.

One of my March school visits was particularly memorable because of extraordinary efforts of librarians to engage their students in my work before I arrived.

Brent Subic Library staff (left to right): Riza Bamba (elementary library assistant), Angelo Fernandez (middle school librarian), me, Debbie Kienzle (Brent International School head librarian), Rose Austria (lower school librarian).

At Brent International School Subic in the Philippines, Rose and Angelo put my books on display, put up welcoming banners, and read my work to their students.


Riza, who'd never been part of an author visit before, worked with the 4th and 5th graders to create the most amazing display of creative projects in response to my work that I've ever seen. She first went online to research what kinds of projects other schools had produced. She googled "author visits," looked at Pinterest, and gathered examples to give students ideas of what was possible.

The students, in small teams of 3-5 students, used 2 library periods per week for more than a month, plus free time - a total of 10-15 hours on each project. They did online research about me and my books, then used their imaginations to craft incredibly original and delightful projects demonstrating their knowledge, including...

a Lift-the-Flap poster ;

a Facebook page;

a gameboard;

a hanging poster;

  a house;

and a pizza box!

The result of this extraordinary investment of time, energy and creativity was palpable in the students' response to meeting me. When the 4th-5th graders came into the auditorium for their workshop, they were bursting with excitement. It felt as if there was already a deep bond between us, as if I was theirs. What an honor and a delight to spend time with them!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Philippines!

Catching up on my spring: back in March, my second Southeast Asia stop was the Philippines, where I visited the three campuses of Brent International School. It was fascinating to experience the differences between the schools, from Subic's 200 students (80% Korean) in a building on a former U.S. military base, to Baguio's hillside cluster of buildings with 300 students (60% Korean), to Manila's student body of more-than-1000 diverse students from all over the world.

And I got to travel and experience wonders of the Philippines, from Subic Bay on the western coast...

with breakfast by the bay,

and fruit bats in one protected area;
then across the central plain and up twisting roads to mountain-top Baguio,

where I was the first-ever international author to visit,

and students were very excited by autographing.

Baguio had some of the most amazing jeepneys I saw.

Then back down the mountain and across the plain, driving through Manila and to the southern suburbs...

Another  hotel breakfast with a very different view!

  to the main campus of Brent Manila.

Throughout, I was accompanied by librarian extraordinaire Debbie Kienzle, and welcomed so warmly and graciously by her library staff, the schools' personnel and students, and the Filipinos I met everywhere we traveled.