After I posted my thoughts on big book causality, I received this question in my ask box:
The Short Answer
My short answer to the question of whether or not I find it disingenuous to suggest that being male might have had some effect on John’s success is… no. Not even a little bit. Not at all.
The Long Answer
My long answer is (as one might suspect from my the length of my last blog entry)…. long.
Apprently only ten percent of children’s books published in a given year have multicultural content, but I think it’s a lot lower in Middle Grade fantasy and science fiction, and I don’t seen any surge in diversity. 2013 is, in fact, looking like the least diverse year since I started paying attention five or so years ago.
Where I Work: Elizabeth Wein
The pictures included here are spontaneous and random because, like Mr Earbrass in Edward Gorey’s The Unstrung Harp, I belong “to the straying, rather than the sedentary type of author.” I am “never to be found at [my] desk unless actually writing down a sentence.”
The summer house (in our back garden) has been dubbed by one of my readers “Tiny Little House O’ Writing.” It is a miniature imitation of the summer cottage in Pennsylvania where I spent all my summers as a child and where my grandmother now lives. It is also the space we have instead of a porch, because they don’t do porches in Scotland (the average summer temperature is 61 F / 16 C). The summer house has got a heater and electricity installed. It is called a “summer house” because you can sit in it and pretend it is summer.
The cat’s name is Hershi. He is always by my side when I am working at home, on the table watching me, or under the table next to my feet, or sleeping on a chair close by.
The dining room table is where I write when it is too cold to sit in the summer house, which is most of the year, even with the heater installed. I do have a desk, but I haven’t actually sat there to write since 2009. I use the desk as an extension of my many filing cabinets.
In the morning, when the sun is coming in, I like to write in the bay window in the living room. The front garden is big and a little overgrown and makes me feel like I am in the woods, even though our house is on the main road into Perth. There is a beech hedge, a rhododendron hedge, and three linden trees hiding the road from our house. I confess that when I am sitting in the bay window, I like to pretend it is a turret in a castle (I think I have St. Michael’s Mount, in Cornwall, in mind).
If it is warm enough and not raining, which is about two weeks in the year, I sometimes sit in the tiny garden at the side of our house. There are lilacs and apple trees and a rain barrel there. It feels like a country cottage garden even though it isn’t. I think that what most of my favorite writing places have in common is that they fool me into thinking I am somewhere else. I don’t know what that says about my writing.
The other thing they have in common is that they are very photogenic. At least once a week I go sit with a friend in the Winter Garden at the Crieff Hydro (actually at the table in the picture in the link: http://www.crieffhydro.com/leisure/food-and-drink/the-winter-garden.aspx ); we write there together for about four hours at a time. I like to vary my hangouts.
Elizabeth Wein is the award-winning author of Code Name Verity (2012). Her new novel, Rose Under Fire (both Disney-Hyperion, 2013), will be released in the United States in September.
Where I Work: Julie Berry
I have a little office in my home. It’s an upstairs room overlooking the street, too small for a bedroom (no closet) but just right for a writing office. Behind my chair, three south-facing windows feed me lots of pretty light, even on gray days. Big blossoming plants grow in the bay windows. Green plants nourish the soul, I find.
Here’s my desk. More plants, some artwork (woodcuts by my sister, a landscape by a friend), research books, office supplies, binder clips (use lots of those), and a bulletin board full of kid pictures, quotes, poem snippets, and miscellany. Notice the strip of purplish color on the wall under the bulletin board—I started painting my office but never finished. The color name felt writerly: “Foreshadow.”
Here’s a closer look at my desk setup. I plug my laptop into a larger monitor and use a dual-monitor setting, so I can spread my manuscript wide on the big screen, and keep my email visible on the lower monitor. Wider screens with multi-page views are essential for chapter revision—they help me spot redundancy, wordiness, and draggy spots. Sometimes I travel to college libraries where I can access huge monitors for a 4 or 6-page view when I need to see my work panoramically.
Here’s a closer look at one corner of my desk. Offices can be dusty, boxy, techno-dreary places, a far cry from the fictional worlds writers hope to create. Color, plants, art, friends—I try to keep them close. Couldn’t get them to pose, but my cats insert themselves here constantly. This woodcut (also by my sister Beth) is Saint Augustine. I like having a saint watch over my notebooks.
Julie Berry is the author of All the Truth That’s in Me, 2013, Viking. Find her online at www.julieberrybooks.com, or on Twitter at @julieberrybooks.
9 young adult books about South Asian main characters:
(book descriptions are from WorldCat; links go to Barnes & Noble)
Sita’s Ramayana by Samhita Arni and Moyna Chitrakar (Groundwood Books, 2011)
This version of the The Ramayana is told from the perspective of Sita, the queen. It is an allegorical story that contains important Hindu teachings, and it has had great influence on Indian life and culture over the centuries.
Devil’s Kiss by Sarwat Chadda (Disney Hyperion, 2009)
Fifteen-year-old Billi SanGreal has grown up knowing that being a member of the Knights Templar puts her in danger, but if she is to save London from catastrophe she must make sacrifices greater than she imagined.
Skunk Girl by Sheba Karim (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2009)
Nina Khan is not just the only Asian or Muslim student in her small-town high school in upstate New York, she is also faces the legacy of her “Supernerd” older sister, body hair, and the pain of having a crush when her parents forbid her to date.
What I Meant by Marie Lamba (Random House Children’s Books, 2007)
Having to share her home with her demanding and devious aunt from India makes it all the more difficult for fifteen-year-old Sang to deal with such things as her parents thinking she is too young to date, getting less than perfect grades, and being shut out by her long-time best friend.
Shine, Coconut Moon by Neesha Meminger (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2009)
In the days and weeks following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, Samar, who is of Punjabi heritage but has been raised with no knowledge of her past by her single mother, wants to learn about her family’s history and to get in touch with the grandparents her mother shuns.
Karma by Cathy Ostlere (Razorbill, 2011)
In 1984, following her mother’s suicide, 15-year-old Maya and her Sikh father travel to New Delhi from Canada to place her mother’s ashes in their final resting place. On the night of their arrival, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi is assassinated, Maya and her father are separated when the city erupts in chaos, and Maya must rely on Sandeep, a boy she has just met, for survival.
Guantanamo Boy by Anna Perera (Albert Whitman, 2011)
Six months after the events of September 11, 2001, Khalid, a Muslim fifteen-year-old boy from England is kidnapped during a family trip to Pakistan and imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he is held for two years suffering interrogations, water-boarding, isolation, and more for reasons unknown to him.
First Daughter: White House Rules by Mitali Perkins (Dutton Children’s Books, 2008)
Once sixteen-year-old Sameera Righton’s father is elected president of the United States, the adopted Pakistani-American girl moves into the White House and makes some decisions about how she is going to live her life in the spotlight.
Koyal Dark, Mango Sweet by Kashmira Sheth (Hyperion, 2006)
Growing up with her family in Mumbai, India, sixteen-year-old Jeeta disagrees with much of her mother’s traditional advice about how to live her life and tries to be more modern and independent.
The House of Djinn by Suzanne Fisher Staples (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008)
An unexpected death brings Shabanu’s daughter, Mumtaz, and nephew, Jameel, both aged fifteen, to the forefront of an attempt to modernize Pakistan, but the teens must both sacrifice their own dreams if they are to meet family and tribal expectations.
A select list by SLJ’s book review team created after the Newtown tragedy - sadly, an appropriate resource once again.
The panelists agreed that above all, education—at all levels—was key. Elliott, who currently teaches at the Center for Ethnic Studies at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, emphasized the need to offer training and workshops to writers and editors in order to establish cultural competence. For her, it’s vital that “people can look at a piece of literature and learn how to identify bias, how to identify distortions.” Quintero also related an experience with the publishing industry that she said displays the pressing need not just for diversity but for awareness and cultural sensitivity. Quintero, who identifies as African American and Latina, described having a Latina editor turn down one of her manuscripts. The rationale? Because the book’s protagonist was living in foster care instead of in a large extended family, her editor didn’t find her “Latina enough.” Ultimately, literature is important to helping young people to be culturally sensitive and aware, Elliott stressed. “The way that the world is changing, they need to be able to demonstrate cultural competence,” she advised. “They need to understand their own cultural location but be able to communicate cross culturally with others, and books are an excellent way to do that.”
Mexican White Boy by Matt De La Pena
Dreams of Significant Girls by Cristina Garcia
If I Tell by Janet Gurtler
Liar by Justine Larbalestier
Black, White, Other: In Search of Nina Armstrong by Joan Steinau Lester
Cuba 15 by Nancy Osa
Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves
The Latte Rebellion by Sarah Jamila Stevenson
Skim by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki
I’m sure you hear about the impact True Diary has on kids all the time. What story has left the most lasting impression on you? The big moment for me was when I gave a reading in Spokane in 2009, and eight or nine Chicano boys drove up with their teacher from Ephrata, WA, which has a heavily migrant worker population. These Chicano boys were so into the book—and they were all wearing ties—and they told me that they had decided to put on ties to show respect to me and the book. Their excitement was amazing, and all of them said it was the first book they’d ever finished. What made the book so special? It was the first book they ever read that felt real.
It seems to me that “New Adult” has characters from 18 to 29. It’s people in a time period that is after the perceived safety and narrowness and intimacy of high school, and by intimacy I mean, having a physical place where everyone goes and shares lunch times and has common experiences of classrooms and lunch times. I say perceived, because that’s not always true
YA librarian supreme Liz Burns in an illuminating School Library Journal blog post about the “new adult” genre, which really isn’t new, as in just-been-created. It just hasn’t been split off from YA lit and slapped with a name before, so it’s kinda like Soho (which used to be just “downtown” here in Manhattan).
It will interest some of you to know that Cloud partner Harlequin has a big stake in growing its new adult acquisitions. See Chelsea Cameron’s My Favorite Mistake (in Cloud, ISBN 9781459231283), originally self-published.
Fortunately for me, I have a friend who was outraged enough to ask what I thought about Anne posing as if she’s on the cover of Objects R Us. At first, I said, “Meh, I wasn’t surprised.” And then I thought: What if this was Jo March? And all my girl turned mama indignation just bubbled up. Don’t be messin with Jo March. Just. Don’t. Even. OK then. Don’t be messin with Anne either. Step off, and step off now. Because do you know what you are telling our little girls, oh sexist artist of the updated classics? You are telling them to ring their bells for you, not for themselves. And they hear that enough. They hear it so much, in fact, that it’s a wonder they can still hear the ringing of the bells at all. The reason the fictional girl on the verge of fictional womanhood resonates for us all is because she exists in the time before, as we cannot. She exists before we really understood what sex or gender are, and how they can free you and limit you at once. She exists in a time when anything is—really and truly—possible, because your imagination is your only limit, and your body has not yet been measured and tested. She exists when you belong, fully and only, to yourself.
And that’s the part that disturbs me. The heart of the question implies that if a male character is “strong” that’s to be expected, because boys and men are strong. Normal. Default. Go about your business. But if a female character leads a story, does stuff, has a voice and a purpose and changes her life or others’ lives or starts or stops a war or makes a stand or has power then it’s newsworthy, because that’s not expected, not true to life. Not normal. Not our default assumption about girls. So stop and take note. I know I shouldn’t still be surprised by that question, but I am, every time. When I began writing novels, I assumed I wouldn’t have to prove my right as a woman writer or have to dig out a place for female characters. I thought people who had come before me had already done that, writers like Tamora Pierce, Robin McKinley, Anne McCaffrey, Ursula LeGuin. I felt like I didn’t have the burden of screaming back at the world, “a girl can carry an action story, look, look!” While writing I’d decided that sexism didn’t even exist in my fantasy worlds and I never had to wrestle with it. In my worlds, girls do stuff and nobody thinks two things about it. But it turns out that my books aren’t published in my fantasy worlds. They’re published in this world.
Britney Spears is negotiating a book deal for a novel.
The Horn Book “KidLit Election 2012: Election results are in!”
Author Barbara Kerley blogs about the Common Core and taking part in the SLJSummit.
You know what origami is, but can you guess what “starwarigami” includes. Hint: R2-D2 requires some intricate folding.
After Hurricane Sandy forced the New York Public Library to cancel its annual black-tie fundraising gala, volunteers gave out the food that would have been served at the event.
Jen Doll writes in the Atlantic Wire about “Y.A. and middle-grade books we’ve relied on in the past for guidance and clarity when our environment appears to go off the rails.”
We’ve got a doozy of a list for you this week.
Prep for your next social gathering with these “20 Spectacularly Nerdy Dinosaur Jokes.” You’ll be the hit of the party…or get the chip bowl all to yourself. Either way, it’s a win.
That ancient philosophical question is tackled by Slate: “Is Big Bird an Order Muppet or a Chaos Muppet?” Talk amongst yourselves.
Though I’m partial to Sully and Mike from Monsters, Inc., check out these other“lovable” movie monsters compiled by the folks at Flavorwire.
What does a librarian look like? There’s a Tumblr for that.
The Horn Book KidLit Election 2012 continues with the Lorax, Brian Robeson, and Ole Golly joining as third-party tickets.
Tolkien tourism is still going strong. And the New York Times has an awesome slideshow to prove it.
Speaking of J.R.R., HarperCollins plans to publish a never-before-seen epic poem by the man who brought us Middle-earth.
The National Book Award Finalists in Young People’s Lit have been announced.
Think you know your “Goosebumps” books? Test your knowledge with a quiz.