Thursday, June 28, 2007

Poetry Friday: June 29

Greetings, everyone, from Ballater, Scotland! I somehow signed up for the Poetry Friday roundup during my week off from the blog. The wonderful Gwenda Bond of Shaken & Stirred has agreed to take up the roundup tomorrow. So head on over her way and leave your links.

I'll see you all on Monday, I hope.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

I'm off!

It's time for my annual week off from the blog. I hope you all have a wonderful week (many of you sharing stories from ALA) and I'll see you back here on July 2. The ever-delayed June/July issue of The Edge of the Forest will be up on July 4.

Review: Girl Overboard

Are you looking for a little fun? Then grab your sunscreen, your beach bag, and a copy of Aimee Ferris' Girl Overboard. It's the perfect beach fare--think Marian Keyes for the teenaged set.

In the summer before her senior year of high school, Marina Gray has some serious thinking to do. A smart girl from a small town in Vermont, she's interested in studying marine biology in her dream program at the University of Hawaii. But, she's been part of a couple for years and her boyfriend, Damian, loves skiing and snowboarding and plans to remain in Vermont for college. Moreover, Damian's mother is in remission from breast cancer and, so, he doesn't want to leave her for school (and Marina feels guilty even asking him to leave with her). Marina has decide whether or not to follow her dreams or remain with her first love.

This conundrum seems, on the surface of things, trivial, but, honestly, isn't it one of the most typical big decisions every girl has to make? Marina decides to sign up for a summer program at sea--a dream program devoted to marine biology on a cruise ship. Students will be working with dolphins in the Bahamas, whale sharks in the Bay Islands, and sea turtles in the Dominican Republic. While working with her fellow students, Marina saves a baby dolphin, swims with a whale shark, and learns quite a bit about how marine biologists work around the world. (Hint: it's not all glamorous.)

What I liked most about Girl Overboard is the serious thought Marina affords her decisions. She understands that, at age 18, she could easily make a mistake and end up abandoning her dreams for a boyfriend. She also understands that pursuing her dreams means comes with a cost. Call it junior rom-com with a conscious, or beach book with a bite, but, in the final analysis, you’ll have to call Girl Overboard a delicious summer read.

Weekend Reviews (II)

It really is a slow weekend for reviews. Here's what I've been able to find this Sunday:

King Ocean's Flute, by Lucy Coats, illustrated by Peter Malone, is the Times Children's Book of the Week.

Amanda Craig tackles "junior rom-com" in the Times. (I got to read this in print first this weekend!)

Ann M. Martin's Main Street: Welcome to Camden Falls and Main Street: Needle and Thread comprise this week's Washington Post KidsPost Book of the Week.

Okay. The Chicago Tribune really must get their web book pages together. Jim told me there were reviews, but I could only find them by searching! In any case, Mary Harris Russell reviews the following children's books this week:

  • Evil Genius, by Catherine Jinks,
  • Kimchi & Calamari, by Rose Kent
  • In Aunt Giraffe's Green Garden, by Jack Prelutsky, pictures by Petra Mathers
  • Leaving the Nest, by Mordicai Gerstein
  • The Strongest Man in the World: Louis Cyr, by Nicolas Debon
  • When Gorilla Goes Walking, by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Shane Evans

Katie Haegele reviews Young Adult fiction for the Philadelphia Inquirer. This week she reviews First Light, by Rebecca Stead.

ETA: Sonja Bolle reviews two new books for Newsday: The Longest Season, by Cal Ripken Jr., illustrated by Ron Mazellan, and Good Sports: Rhymes About Running, Jumping, Throwing and More, by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Chris Raschka.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The carnival is UP!

The June Carnival of Children's Literature is up at A Year of Reading. Pull up a chair, pour a cup o'tea, and enjoy.

Kudos to Mary Lee and Franki for a newsworthy issue.

Review: Parrotfish

Ellen Wittlinger's Parrotfish is a good-natured, compassionate novel about gender identity and growing up. Aimed at the Young Adult reader, Parrotfish is told in first-person narration from high school junior Angela's point of view. At the start of the novel, Angela--around Christmas-time--decides to change her name to Grady and her gender identity from female to male. This decision, needless to say, is not without its repercussions. Everyone in Grady's life reacts one way or another, and not always in the way he expected.

Dad, for instance, hardly blinks and eye when Angela becomes Grady. He's just happy that he still has the kid who enjoys doing the types of things he likes to do. Younger sister Laura is too obsessed with makeup, boys, and making it in high school to spend time building things with dad. And the youngest kid in the family, Charlie, is a computer-game addict who lives indoors. Charlie, like Dad, isn't too troubled by Grady's transformation. It takes Mom, however, some time to come around and Laura is afraid Grady will ruin her precarious reputation as a high school freshman.

Grady's friendships are altered as well. His best friend from childhood--Eve--has fallen in with the popular crowd and is freaked out by Grady’s new status as a boy. The school nerd Sebastian, however, takes Grady under his metaphorical wing and teaches him a lot about friendship and being one's self. Having always been an outsider and a genius, Sebastian's learned quite a bit about identity and self-worth before reaching high school.

These shifting relationships form the story of Parrotfish. But central to the novel as well are Grady and the other characters' considerations of what makes us male or female. When Grady's baby cousin is born, for example, he reflects:

"I knew the first question Mom asked Gail was, Is it a boy or a girl? Because, for some reason, that is the first thing everybody wants to know the minute you're born. Wouldn't want to mistake the gender of an infant! Why is that so important? It's a baby! And why does it have to be a simple answer? One or the other? Not all of us fit so neatly into the category we get saddled with on Day One when the doctor glances down and makes a quick assessment of the available equipment."

This is the heart of Parrotfish: What makes a human male or female? What does it mean if Grady is attracted to girls and not to boys? And what does physical attraction have to do at all with biological gender? Ellen Wittlinger handles these issues with sensitivity and, actually, no sexual content beyond high school crushes. Unusually, there are no real villains in the novel. Even the characters who act badly (high school bully, principal) have reasons for their behavior or rethink their points of view. Even mom, who is sad because she loses her Angela, learns to accept Grady wholeheartedly by the end of the novel. In the end, Grady finds his issues and struggles to understand himself to be universal: "Things change. People change. We spend a long time trying to figure out how to act like ourselves, and then, if we're lucky, we finally figure out that being ourselves has nothing to do with acting. If you don’t believe it, just look at me, the kid in the middle of the football field, smiling." Parrotfish is highly recommended for readers ages thirteen and up.

Weekend Reviews (I)

I hope you're all having wonderful Saturdays. I'm enjoying myself in Edinburgh at the moment and listening to Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince in anticipation of the big event coming up soon.

Here are the weekend reviews available so far online:

Annette Curtis Klause reviews Wicked Lovely, by Melissa Marr, in the Washington Post Book World.

The Boston Globe has "page-turner picks" for the youngsters--books selected by various book groups around the city. (In a related article, David Mehegan talks to Judy Gelman and Vicki Levy Krupp, authors of The Book Club Cookbook.)

In this weekend's "Not-a-Review" category, Meg Rosoff tells readers "it's good for children to face fear through books" in the Telegraph.

Ummm...I hope there's more coming tomorrow, 'cause this is slim pickings, folks!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Welcome, Justina Chen Headley!

Welcome to Day Six of the Super Blog Blast Tour. Today, I'm happy to welcome Justina Chen Headley, author of one of my most beloved YA titles, Nothing But the Truth (and a few white lies). Justina is also one of the Readergirlz divas, a group of fabulous YA authors who are reaching out to readers with Readergirlz groups, manifestas, and monthly challenges.

Kelly: Recently, Justina, I profiled you and the other Readergirlz for The Edge of the Forest. (Read here.) How is the Readergirlz project going so far?

Justina: My co-founders--the amazing YA novelists Dia Calhoun, Janet Lee Carey, and Lorie Ann Grover--and I have been amazed and overwhelmed by the reception readergirlz has been getting from teen girls, librarians, teachers and booksellers.

That means so much to me personally since I wanted to tie teen girl literacy with community service: make books a springboard to thinking more deeply about life and our role on this planet. Give girls a true service learning experience. Show girls to put actions behind their words. Our world needs teen girls to be the next wave of strong, compassionate leaders in whatever they choose to do.

Kelly: Beer, wine, or a soft drink?

Justina: Pinot noir, preferably from my brother's vineyard, Patton Valley!

Kelly: What's next for the Readergirlz?

Justina: To celebrate YALSA's annual Teen Read Week in October, we are launching a new readergirlz program: 31 Flavorite Authors. Every day in the month of October, a different, acclaimed YA author will chat live for an hour with teen readers on the readergirlz group Already, Meg Cabot, Carolyn Mackler, Lisa Yee, Brent Hartinger, and Rachel Cohn have enthusiastically agreed to participate.

For the readergirlz divas, this is a wonderful realization of our dream to make authors more accessible to readers.

Kelly: Beach, city, or forest?

Justina: Mountains! There, you can get alpine lakes, unbelievable views, and a workout all at the same time.

Kelly: You've published one young adult novel [Nothing but the Truth (and a few white lies)] and a picture book, The Patch. Your second young adult novel, Girl Overboard, will be out this year. Which genre do you prefer--picture book or young adult? Do you write Middle Grade fiction as well?

Justina: While I love picture books--and my picture book publisher, Charlesbridge--I must confess that I LOVE writing for young adults. It must be because I still feel like a teen...right down to these aggravating pimples I've been getting lately. I'm channeling too much teen angst, apparently.

Kelly: Coffee, tea, or a triple skinny latte?

Justina: Oh, yay! Let me introduce you to the delight of the authentic green tea frappucino--not the way they serve it here in the US, but in Asia. Order it at Starbucks but (this is key, pay attention) with NO syrup and cream, and double the matcha. Ordered this way, this drink is worthy of The Edge of the Forest review space. Ordered the U.S. way, well, can you say, repugnant?

Kelly: Why did you decide to write children's books and not, say, mystery, chick lit, or "literary fiction"?

Justina: I write for teens because these novels explore the mysteries of life, have all the cheeky fun of chick lit, and every bit the merit of literary fiction. Enough said.

Kelly: Movie, Theater, or a Concert?

Justina: Ummm...curling up on the couch with my hubby and kiddos, watching a movie and eating kettle corn (with said glass of Patton Valley pinot in my hand--really, it's a mouth party).

Kelly: If you had an entire week and unlimited resources to do whatever you'd like, what would you do and why?

Justina: While we're fantasizing, can I tack on another two weeks so that I could trek properly in Nepal and Tibet? I so want to see those countries and meet the people and be on those mountains.

Kelly: Halloween, New Year's, or Valentine's Day?

Justina: None of the above. I'm sorry; I am such a high-maintenance interviewee, aren't I?

It's all about my kids' birthdays. Yes, I am one of those moms.

Truth: I spend months planning their birthday parties, not that they're lavish, expensive events. Not at all. But they are fun and memorable and unique, I hope. Like the BARF (BrainiAck Race Fantastique) Scavenger Hunt that included math problems the kids had to solve before advancing to the next location, a gross foods taste test, and a literary Jeopardy! competition. And then there was Viva la Diva where the kids rocked out. And my all-time piece de resistance--the Star Wars Jedi Training Academy. (Call me Obi Mom Kenobi.)

Kelly: I loved your Nothing But the Truth Scholarship Essay contest and the three winning essays. What inspired you to begin the contest and what have you learned from the experience?

Justina: Thanks--I loved the three winning essays, too!

My parents sacrificed so much to put four kids through college. College was expensive then and now, ridiculously so. I got through college on a combination of my parents' savings, scholarships and college loans. So in my small way, I wanted to help make college a tiny bit easier for a truly worthy student.

The best learning of all: there are so many wonderful, smart, thoughtful young adults in America. At the end of reading the hundreds and hundreds of submissions, I looked at my judges and told them: our world is in good hands.


Kelly: Nothing but the Truth (and a few white lies) was one of my favorite YA novels of 2006. (read review) Your protagonist, Patty Ho, is struggling to come to terms with her identity--she has a Taiwanese mother and a missing white father and is not quite sure where she belongs. In addition, Patty lives in a small town. Do you think small-town life adds to her struggle to find herself and her truth, or would Patty face the same issues if she lived, for example, in New York City?

Justina: I am so thrilled that my novel touched your heart, Kelly.

It's funny; one of the reviewers for my book has a hapa daughter who's growing up in NYC--and she told me that her daughter has no racial identity issues at all. So yes, I do think that being in a small-town defined Patty's experience. For one, she was always the Other. No one resembled her in her all-white town. No one knew that she felt perpetually scrutinized. And very few people understood what it was like to be the target of racism.

Kelly: Patty's Honors English teacher requires Patty to rewrite her truth statement (a practice run at a college essay, with a focus on "The Truth, and nothing but the Truth"), this time telling the whole truth about her life. I think this is an excellent high school assignment. Is it based on a real-life incident?

Justina: I was the kind of student who preferred to write papers than to study for tests. My husband thinks that's so weird, but what can I say? So I would have welcomed a Truth Statement, especially if meant no final exam!

I'm always so tickled by the number of teachers who've told me that they've been assigning the Truth Statement to their students. (While I would apologize to all those students, I hate to say this, but I'm thrilled! If I do say so myself, the essay topic is a great way to get to know who you are, what you stand for.)

Kelly: I adore The Mama Lecture Series. It begins with, "Greetings and welcome to The Mama Lecture Series, brought to you by the first-generation Mamas who left the Old Country for Brand-New America...While audience participation, such as talking back, is forbidden, tears of guilt and effusive apologies are more than welcome." Do you think Mama adds to Patty's struggles to find her truth?

Justina: I had such a great time writing The Mama Lecture Series--and love how everyone--regardless of race, age or gender--can identify with it. Come to think of it, I should have made an essay contest for the best Mama Lecture.

But in all seriousness, parental expectations and the fear of disappointing a parent colors the choices we make as children and young adults. And sometimes, even as adults! It's so hard, I think, separating from our parents. But that's part of growing up and that's part of Patty's journey--and every girl's journey.

Kelly: What can we look forward to next from Justina Chen Headley?

Justina: Well, I'll tell you this: you'll see me tying all of my books to some kind of philanthropy. That was the commitment I made with my first book contract. The way I see it, if I get 15 minutes of fame with each book release, I can share the stage with a worthy cause!

And in the immediate future, I'm super excited about my forthcoming novel, GIRL OVERBOARD, about a snowboard girl who seemingly has the golden touch. After all, her dad is a billionaire. So this is really an exploration of the dark side to uber-wealth.

I'm beyond excited that Burton Snowboards and Olympic Gold medallist in snowboarding, Hannah Teter, are partnering with me on a Challenge Grant for young adults. Details will come soon on my MySpace profile--and my website.
Today's SBBT schedule:
Ysabeau Wilce at Shaken & Stirred
Dana Reinhardt at Bildungsroman
Julie Anne Peters at Finding Wonderland
Justine Larbalestier at Hip Writer Mama
Kirsten Miller at A Fuse #8 Production
Tim Tharp at Chasing Ray
Check out HipWriterMama's SBBT interview with Justina!

Poetry Friday

Guess where I am today? That's right...Edinburgh!

When I was in 2nd grade I lived in Scotland and it seems I had to memorize a Burns poem a week. In fact, I remember Halloween and actually having to recite a Burns poem to earn a treat. So, in honor of Scotland and Edinburgh, here's a stanza from Robert Burns' 1786 "Address to Edinburgh":

Edina! Scotia's darling seat!
All hail thy palaces and tow'rs,
Where once, beneath a Monarch's feet,
Sat Legislation's sov'reign pow'rs:
From marking wildly scatt'red flow'rs,
As on the banks of Ayr I stray'd,
And singing, lone, the lingering hours,
I shelter in they honour'd shade.

Read the rest of the poem here.

Today's Poetry Friday roundup is happening over at A Wrung Sponge. Head on over and leave your links!

Thursday, June 21, 2007


Pullman wins 'great book' title. (Via the BBC.)

Carnegie Award

This just in! Meg Rosoff has won the Carnegie Medal for Just in Case.

And, Mini Grey won the Kate Greenaway Medal for The Adventures of the Dish and the Spoon.

This year, I've actually reviewed both these titles. If you're interested, here are the reviews: Just in Case and The Adventures of the Dish and the Spoon.

SBBT: Justine Larbalestier

Good morning and a Happy Thursday to you all! This morning Justine Larbalestier stops by. Larbalestier is the author of the stunning and brilliant Magic or Madness trilogy (you can read my review of Magic or Madness, Magic Lessons, and Magic's Child here), a trio of books that wowed me. Justine has more in the works (check out the last question) and writes a smart, entertaining blog here.

There are spoilers in the Book Questions portion of this interview. I apologize for that, but I was still too engaged in the series when I wrote the interview questions.

Now onto the interview...

Kelly: Tell us a little bit about Justine Larbalestier. How do you spend your days? How do you pronounce your last name?

Justine: I spend my days avoiding doing work. So I'm online a lot. Or eating yummy food. Or planning my next meal.

There are three basic variations: Lar-bal-est-ee-er, Lar-bal-est-ee-ay, and Lar-bal-est-ee-air.

Kelly: Beer, wine, or a soft drink?

Justine: Wine. Definitely good wine.

Kelly: Who is your favorite writer?

Justine: Right this minute it's probably Dorothy Dunnett. But if you ask me again later it will be someone different. I'm pretty besotted by E. Lockhart's Dramarama and Coe Booth's Tyrell.

Kelly: Beach, city, or forest?

Justine: All of the above. Sydney is a city that's got tonnes of great beaches and many wonderful national forests in and around it. I get the best of all three just by living in my favourite city.

Kelly: What draws you to Young Adult literature in particular? What I mean is, why teen fiction and not, say, mystery, chick lit, or "literary fiction"?

Justine: Because when I write YA I can write any of those: mystery, chick lit, "lit fic" (whatever that is). I can write whatever genre I want and all my books will be shelved side by side in the YA section. It's very liberating.

Kelly: Coffee, tea, or a triple skinny latte?

Justine: None of the above. I hate coffee. And will only drink tea if I'm dying of thirst and there's no water around. I love water.

Kelly: You've written and edited scholarly works in addition to fiction. (I LOVED the Habermas/Foucault joke in Magic Lessons, by the way)* Do you plan to continue scholarly work on science fiction and fantasy?

Justine: No. Too much hard work. Writing fiction is way more fun. I'm glad you enjoyed the Habermas and Foucault jokes. They were aimed at making my parents giggle. (As are many of the things I write.) They're anthropologists. I grew up in a house whose shelves groaned under the weight of tomes by those two gentlemen and many others. As a kid I thought they had the funniest names in the world. Still do.

Kelly: Movie, Theater, or a Concert?

Justine: Hmmm. Depends on what's on offer. I'm hopeless at these types of choices. I'm all about both/and rather than either/or. I want it all!

Kelly: If you had an entire week and unlimited resources to do whatever you'd like, what would you do and why?

Justine: Other than reverse global warming and ending poverty and social inequality, you mean? You know, I think I'm already doing it. I've always wanted to make a living writing fiction and have my pyjamas be my work uniform. I've always wanted to travel and meet lots of cool people. I have the life I want. I'm unbelievably lucky.

Kelly: Halloween, New Year's, or Valentine's Day?

Justine: New Year's. But it's not really much of a choice for me because we don't really have Halloween or Valentine's Day in Australia. Or at least we didn't when I was growing up. Those days don't mean anything to me. Whereas New Year's means fireworks and the Sydney Harbour Bridge blowing up. Awesome!


Kelly: In your Magic or Madness trilogy, the costs of magic are high. Each use of magic causes pain and reduces lifespan. Do you see a real-life analogy to magic in your books? (Power, money, fame?)

Justine: What do you think? Seriously that question's more useful for readers to answer than the writer. Writers rarely have anything smart to say about their own books. We're way too close to them. I can tell you that I wasn't thinking of a real-life analogy when I wrote I was just telling a story set in a world where magic has bigtime consequences that are worse than a headache or feeling tired. (That's my one quibble with your question: there's no pain when using magic. That's part of its seductiveness. The dire consequences are long term not short. At least not until you're about to die.) I was, however, definitely thinking about the ethical choices my characters had to make. But then I believe everyone has to make ethical choices every single day of their lives. Getting out of bed is an ethical choice.

Kelly: (Spolier Alert!) As a reader, I most appreciated how completely complex some of your characters were, particularly Reason's grandmother, Esmeralda. To the end, the reader is not sure if Esmeralda is good or bad. In fact, at the very end, she's still a complex character, even though we finally see her love for Reason is true. Was it a struggle to maintain the complex nature of her character over the course of the trilogy?

Justine: Now, that I did on purpose. One of my pet peeves is the cardboard villain. All memorable villains are complex. They don't just do bad for the sake of doing bad. They have reasons. And often from their point of view what they're doing isn't bad at all. I wanted to write characters who were complex, who were neither entirely good nor entirely bad. I wanted to understand why they did what they did. Even Jason Blake, who's as close to a villain as the trilogy has, even he has reasons for his behaviour. I was hoping that some readers would feel some sympathy for him. (Didn't work for my dad. He was very disappointed that I didn't have Jason Blake die a hideous and prolonged death.)

Kelly: Magic, reason, and insanity coexist in your trilogy like a set of Booromean rings, each touching upon and sharing an element of the other. Magic shares some reason (Fibs, mathematics, shapes) and some insanity. When Sarafina tries to live in reason, she succumbs to insanity if not using magic. Why did you decide to set up your magical world in this particular way?

Justine: That's a fascinating reading of the trilogy. I hadn't thought of it like that. When I came up with the idea of magic shortening your life span so dramatically. My first thought was, "Well, why use it then?" Obviously there had to be some dire consequence that was not death. Insanity just made sense. And made the damned if you do/damned if you don't set up perfect.
It's really fascinating to me how different writing fiction is from analysing it. When I was a scholar and my job was the analysing of it, my eyes were wide open to all sorts of fascinating and complicated readings, but now that I write fiction story and character and verisimilitude are foremost in my mind as I write, not themes etc. I'm not sure why that's so. Writers are probably too close to ever really know what's going on in their works.

Kelly: (Spoiler Alert!) At the end of your Magic's Child (vol. 3), we learn two things: Tom does not give up his magic and Reason's child has the magic in her. So, I have two questions:

a. Am I wrong to think that Tom may be different? Of all the characters in the Magic or Madness Trilogy, he's the most inherently good and the most interested in the people around him. Does he have a shot of living beyond 30?

b. Will we be seeing more of Magic, Reason's child?

Justine: a. I wish I knew. I would love for Tom to have a long life (for a magic wielder). But who knows how desperate he'll get when he's facing death? It could get ugly. I don't think Esmeralda ever intended to take magic from anyone and yet she did. He's definitely going to be exposed to a lot of temptation.

b. I have no immediate plans to write more in that world. Right now I have no clue what happens to any of them after the final page of Magic's Child. But who knows? I might get a cool idea that I have to write.

Kelly: Speaking of Tom, I thought the dichotomy between Tom and Danny was very interesting. Both of them have a particular talent--Tom designs clothing and Danny plays basketball. Both are not only good at what they do, but exceptional. One has magic and the other doesn't. Are you saying that Tom might be every bit as good a designer without the magic?

Justine: I think he would still be good without the magic but he wouldn't be magical. Tom would see the difference but those without magic wouldn't.

Kelly: I have to admit that I found your portrayal of teenage sex and love compassionate, sensitive, and finely drawn. Has anyone objected to the minimal sexual content present in the Magic or Madness books?

Justine: Thank you so much! That means a lot to me. I thought long and hard about how to write the sex scene and Reason's pregnancy.

There's been one objection from a lovely Texas librarian. She wrote to me about it and I explained to her what I intended and why I had written the books the way I did. She put Magic Lessons back on the shelf. I've heard that a (very) few schools in Australia decided not to take the second and third books because of the teenage pregnancy. And I've seen comments online from people who are squicked by the idea of teenagers having sex and getting pregnant. I appreciate where they're coming from--I'm certainly not advocating teenage pregnancy! However, the vast majority of people have sex for the first time when they're still teenagers and usually when they're not married. Teenagers do get pregnant. And even those teenagers who don't have sex are thinking and wondering about it. I find teen books that don't touch on sex in some way to be fundamentally dishonest to the experience of being a teenager.

This is the great dilemma of writing for teenagers: the tension between writing to reflect teenage experience or writing to be instructive and good for teenagers. I want to write books that even while they're full of fantasy elements remain true to many teenagers' lives. I see the trilogy as a realist fantasy. At the same time, while I love the idea of my books getting people to think about the big ethical questions of responsibility and loyalty etc. I also hope they're entertaining. Story is foremost.

Kelly: What can we look forward to next from Justine Larbalestier?

Justine: My next book will be out in either September or October of 2008. It's called The Ultimate Fairy Book and will be published by Bloomsbury in North America. It's about a fourteen year old girl who has a parking fairy. She hates cars and can't drive but she has a parking fairy and is endlessly borrowed by relatives so that they can get the perfect parking spot. The novel is the story of her struggle to get rid of it. It's much lighter and funnier than the trilogy and was a great relief to write let me tell you. I can only stay in the darkness so long!


* Here's the Habermas/Foucault passage that had me on the floor:

"Tom's father taught sociology at Sydney Uni and had lots of books with tedious titles like Archaeology of the Meaning of the City or The Idea of the Theory of Knowledge, which were written by people with names like Habermas, who Tom privately thought of as Mighty Mouse, and Foucault, who Tom thought of as...well, something pretty rude." (Magic Lessons, 198)


Today's SBBT schedule:

Eddie Campbell at Chasing Ray
Sara Zarr at Writing and Ruminating
Brent Hartinger at Interactive Reader
Cecil Castellucci at Shaken & Stirred
Ysabeau Wilce at Bildungsroman
Jordan Sonnenblick at Jen Robinson's Book Page
Chris Crutcher at Finding Wonderland
Kazu Kibuishi at lectitans
Mitali Perkins at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
Laura Ruby at The YA YA YAs

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Edge of the Forest--June/July update

Hi All. I had promised that the June/July issue of The Edge of the Forest would be up tomorrow. Well, that's not happening. Today will be occupied with clearing up a medical flexplan, planning for a conference in August, packing for a month-long trip, and clearing out (i.e. responding to) e-mails.

The issue will be up on Monday, the day I'll start a week-long blogvation.
If you are interested in reviewing for the August or September issues of The Edge of the Forest, I have books for you. Lots and lots of books. Currently I'm sending out books to Brian and three other reviewers who don't have their own sites. If you'd like a package of 4-6 books, send me an e-mail asap (I'll be at the P.O. at 9am tomorrow) with your genre/age preferences.

Excellent news (finally) and a feminist rant

As you all know, The Dangerous Book for Boys, has been a huge hit in the U.K. and the U.S. Heck, I even saw one of its authors, Conn Iggulden, on Stephen Colbert. (If you ask me, the sign for breaking through in the U.S. is 3 minutes on Stewart or Colbert.)

When The Dangerous Book for Boys came out in the U.K., there was mention of an analogous "girl" volume. "The Great Big Glorious Book for Girls, out in Britain next month but so far without a U.S. publisher, promises to 'take women back to a time when we made cupcakes with our grandmothers, when girls weren't obsessed with all things pink (and) didn't wear 'Hot to Trot' T-shirts' at age 8," reports Bob Minzesheimer for USAToday. My first thought on The Great Big Glorious Book for Girls, when I read about it in the Guardian, was YUCK. And it still is. I hope it doesn't find a U.S. publisher. This dichotomy is exactly why I didn't make it in the girl scouts. I wanted to learn how to make arrowheads, start fires, and tie knots. Instead, in the Brownies, I "learned" to make beds, make stew for the father dinner, and embroider. I was out by the end of the year.*

Fortunately, Minzesheimer reports, The Daring Book for Girls will be out in October by Collins. It "promises chapters on 'Five karate moves every girl should know' and 'Famous women spies.'" Thank goodness. Now The Daring Book for Girls is a book I'll buy.


Minzesheimer also tells us that there are even more Girl books planned by publishers, the most reprehensible, in my opinion, being: "The Girls' Book: How to Be the Best at Everything, out from Scholastic Aug. 1, offers advice on making pom-poms and French braids."

I'm sorry, but don't girls have enough pressure to be the best at everything without throwing french braids into the mix?


*This post is not meant to be anti-Girl Scout. I do understand that troops vary from place to place. I just happened to be very unlucky.

Today's SBBT schedule

I have a break today from the Summer Blog Blast Tour. But authors and interviewers are talking up a storm all over the internet. Here's today's schedule:

Mitali Perkins at Hip Writer Mama
Svetlana Chmakova at Finding Wonderland
Dana Reinhardt at Interactive Reader
Laura Ruby at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
Holly Black at Shaken & Stirred
Hilary McKay at Bookshelves of Doom
Kirsten Miller at Miss Erin
Julie Ann Peters at A Fuse #8 Production
Carolyn Mackler at The YA YA YAs
Jordan Sonnenblick at Writing and Ruminating


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Say hey to Sara Zarr!

Good morning! Today's SBBT's guest is Sara Zarr, whose first novel Story of a Girl was released this spring. (You can read my review here.) When she's not writing, you can find Sara at her blog-- The Story of a Girl

Kelly: Tell us a little bit about Sara Zarr. Where do you live? How do you spend your days?

Sara: I've lived in Salt Lake City ever since my husband moved here for work about seven years ago, and I have to say I love it. There are a lot of displaced Californians like me here who feel like we've discovered this amazing secret of the quality of life available in Utah. Others are catching on, though. I think right now two of the fastest-growing cities in country are in Utah. Right now I'm writing full-time and spend my days creatively avoiding work.

Kelly: Beer, wine, or a soft drink?

Sara: I'm really sort of addicted to water, but in the summer there's nothing like a great local microbrew with friends. It may surprise people to know that Salt Lake City has several outstanding microbreweries.

Kelly: Who is your favorite writer?

Sara: Oh, I can never name favorites. Of anything. Robert Cormier is the writer who made me want to write.

Kelly: Beach, city, or forest?

Sara: City!

Kelly: What draws you to Young Adult literature in particular? What I mean is, why Young Adult fiction and not, say, mystery, chick lit, or "literary fiction"?

Sara: I'm sure some of it has to do with the influence of Cormier, and M.E. Kerr, and the other great YA authors I've always admired, but really it's just that when I think of stories they usually involve teenagers. There's something about adolescence that is ripe for storytelling, I guess, and I love the straightforward, concise sort of storytelling that seems to be one of the hallmarks of YA.

Kelly: Coffee, tea, or a triple skinny latte?

Sara: Why thank you for offering! Coffee with real half and half, no sweetener.

Kelly: Story of a Girl is your first novel. How long did it take you to write? And I mean from the very beginning--from the spark in your eye to the lovely product I just received?

Sara: I started writing the first draft in 2001, I think, so...six years? That's a bit deceptive, though, as there were huge chunks of time in there spent waiting to hear back from potential agents and editors and contests. I'd say about half that time was waiting.

Kelly: Movie, Theater, or a Concert?

Sara: Movie. Unless the concert is a rock concert in a small venue starring a band or songwriter I love.

Kelly: If you had an entire week and unlimited resources to do whatever you'd like, what would you do and why?

Sara: I'd tour Europe. I've never been off the North American continent!

Kelly: Halloween, New Year's, or Valentine's Day?

Sara: New Year's. I love fresh starts.


Kelly: Story of a Girl really resonated with me, in part because Pacifica reminded me so much of the town I grew up in. You really nailed that California small town down on its luck. Did you grow up in a small town as well?

Sara: I actually lived in San Francisco, a few blocks from Golden Gate Park, until age eleven when we moved to Pacifica. So I have direct experience! Even though Deanna's particular story is not autobiographical, her high school was my high school, her landscape was my landscape, her sense of being trapped in that town was mine (and every teen's who lived in Pacifica without a car). Originally I was going to have it be a fictional town like Pacifica, but then I decided why try to disguise it? I can sort of appreciate it now when I go back to visit as an adult, but it is what it is. I've had a lot of strong response to the setting.

Kelly: Story of a Girl concerns, in many ways, forgiveness and redemption. It seems to me, that Deanna has to forgive others before she can let herself off the hook. Was this theme of forgiveness and redemption one you brought into the book consciously, or did it develop organically as you were writing?

Sara: A little of both, I'm sure. The forgiveness and redemption aspects seem to be part of my writer's DNA---they keep coming up in everything I do; I don't know if I could stop them if I tried. But you can't really go into a book sure of what you want to say. If you do, you close yourself off to other possibilities and perhaps become blind to the other important tasks of writing a good book.

Kelly: In the process of figuring things out and forgiving others around her (Tommy, her father), Deanna makes a few mistakes along the way: kissing her best friend and saying hateful things to her best girlfriend. What are you saying about the nature of friendships and growing up in Story of a Girl?

Sara: I guess that it's hard. People let us down, we let them down. You can't go through a meaningful life and have real connections without occasionally inflicting pain on yourself and others. I think the temptation for most of us when we do that is to walk away and start over with someone else in hopes that we won't mess it up this time. But you can't walk away from yourself, which is something Deanna figures out. The real triumph of her friendship with Lee and Jason is in that last moment of the book, when they are going toward each other instead of away.

Kelly: I absolutely adore the title of your novel and think it fits the book perfectly. Was Story of a Girl the title from the very beginning or did you come to it later on?

Sara: Thank you! Coming up with a title can be one of the hardest parts of writing a book or story. When I started the book, it was called The Miracle of Life. Then it was Together Alone. There was that line on the first page where Deanna has that line, my head I wrote the story of a girl… and I went with that. For a long time it was THE Story of a Girl, but the "the" got dropped in the cover design process and I never looked back!

Kelly: What can we look forward to next from Sara Zarr? My second book with Little, Brown is about to go into production. It's called Sweethearts, and it's about childhood sweethearts who experience something traumatic together as kids, are separated for years, and then find each other again during their senior year of high school. Drama ensues. By the way, I've decided that's what I want on my headstone: "Drama ensued."

Thanks, Sara!

Today's SBBT schedule:

Sonya Hartnett at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
David Brin at Chasing Ray
Laura Ruby at Miss Erin
Bennett Madison at Shaken & Stirred
Shaun Tan at A Fuse #8 Production:
Chris Crutcher at Bookshelves of Doom
Holly Black at The YA YA YAs
Kazu Kibuishi at Finding Wonderland
Christopher Golden at Bildungsroman
Kirsten Miller at Jen Robinson's Book Page

Monday, June 18, 2007

SBBT:Welcome, Mitali!

A bright Good Morning to Mitali Perkins!

Mitali is the author of many a great book including Rickshaw Girl and First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover. Recently, I interviewed Sameera Righton, the teen hero of First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover, right here. Now it's Mitali's turn...

Kelly: Tell us a little bit about Mitali Perkins. Where do you live? How do you spend your days?

Mitali: Reading kid lit blogs. :) No, seriously, I'm still a mommy, even though our boys are (yow!) teenagers, so I drive around Newton, Massachusetts (our town), fold a bottomless pile of t-shirts and cargo pants, keep Trader Joe's in business, and chat and chill with my boys and their friends --when I'm wanted, that is. Mostly I'm on mommy-hold these days, waiting for an invite. I'm also a daughter who lives on the wrong coast, so I Jet Blue to California several weekends a year to stock up on home loving and cooking. Last but not least, I'm a minister's wife (double-yow!) so I co-lead a Bible Study and cheer on the hubby. In my spare time, I play tennis, tend the Labradors, and frequent Thai restaurants to gorge on cheapo extra-spicy lunch specials with various buddies. Oh, and professionally, I'm a writer, blogger, speaker, and reader.

Kelly: Beer, wine, or a soft drink?

Mitali: I'm a one Diet Coke a day kind of girl; I sip it slowly until it's flat and warm.

Kelly: Who is your favorite writer?

Mitali: I favor dead children's book writers--literary mothers like L.M. Montgomery, Louisa May Alcott, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Johanna Spyri, Maud Hart Lovelace, and others. When it comes to the living, I had lunch with Katherine Paterson recently, which was a dream come true. But in all the genres, children's fiction included, I tend to read broadly and widely; my skeptical soul likes to roam and listen to many storytellers instead of sitting at the feet of just one or two.

Kelly: Beach, city, or forest?

Mitali: As an oft-displaced daughter of a harbor engineer, if I have any sense of place at all, it's the ocean. Instant cure for writer's block: a barefoot, solitary walk along the California coast at twilight.

Kelly: What draws you to children's literature in particular? What I mean is, why children's fiction and not, say, mystery, chick lit, or "literary fiction"?

Mitali: One of life's greatest joys is to create spaces where children feel safe, welcome, and beloved. Stories are one such space. For a comprehensive list of eight reasons to write for children, though, check out my blog series called Why I Write For Kids:

Kelly: Coffee, tea, or a triple skinny latte?

Mitali: Latte in a handmade ceramic cup served by an artistic barista. I'm a Berkeley girl like you, remember? My husband's lattes are fabulous on a wintry afternoon by the fire.

Kelly: First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover is the first in a series about Sameera Righton, a teen who becomes first daughter. How many books will be in the series?

Mitali: The next one is First Daughter: White House Rules, and is due out in Spring 2008.

Kelly: Movie, Theater, or a Concert?

Mitali: I like watching movies in my jammies with a snoring puppy on my feet.

Kelly: If you had an entire week and unlimited resources to do whatever you'd like, what would you do and why?

Mitali: That's easy. I'd give every village girl in Bangladesh the same opportunity I gave Naima, my fictional character in Rickshaw Girl (Charlesbridge, 2007), to escape poverty.
If you want a more frivolous answer, I'd take my Dad to Wimbledon to watch the finals at centre court, lavish him and my Mom with five-star hotel splendour, and linger over Darjeeling tea, scones, and clotted cream.

Kelly: Halloween, New Year's, or Valentine's Day?

Mitali: No contest. After twenty-one years of marriage, my husband still puts in the effort to make V-Day a big romantic event and sweeps me off my feet every February 14th.


Kelly: Blogs and social networking software play a big role in First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover--structurally and thematically. What implications do you see for Sameera (and for teens today) in that journals have become public--either to just 29 friends or to the world at large?

Mitali: Persistent blogging, on-line journaling, and/or commenting can build community and give young writers venues to play with words and improve their craft. But as always (take the printing press, for example), the potential for good or evil depends more on the character and intentions of the people using new tools than on the tools themselves.

Kelly: When you were writing First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover, I imagine it was difficult to choose a party for Sameera's father. Why did you decide to make him a Republican candidate?

Mitali: So much of the money and power in the American storytelling industry is concentrated along the coasts. Is that why it's rare to find a teen book featuring Republican characters? I don't know, Kelly, but I like to remove labels and shatter stereotypes, so making Righton a "crunchy-nouveau-conservative" (and if you ask what that means, I'll make something up) seemed right, especially in a novel about politics penned by a "multicultural" Massachusetts writer published by a New York house.

Kelly: One of the most touching and compelling moments in First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover is when Sameera's smalltown cousin, Miranda, glams it up for the cameras in tight clothing, makeup, and with an affected Smalltown accent. How will she do when she moves to Washington to live with the Rightons for an extended period of time?

Mitali: Yes, indeedy, that's what a lot of book two's about; you'll get no spoilers from me, my dear. Ms. Rowling would be appalled if I told you what happens next.

Kelly: You are writing a blog from Sameera/Sparrow's point of view--Sparrowblog--and are active on MySpace as Sparrow. How are teens responding so far? Are you ready for what will happen when the book is released?

Mitali: Sparrow's site stats show a steady increase of visitors from week to week, but I wish I knew if they were teens, and certainly hope she starts getting more comments. On pub date, I'm giving away free books to the five libraries who've sent the most visitors to Sparrowblog via hyperlink. What's going to happen when the book's released? I have no idea, but I'm excited to introduce Sparrow to readers and vice a versa!

Kelly: What can we look forward to next from Mitali Perkins?

Mitali: I'll be blogging sporadically from odd places during the months of July and August as I travel across America and back with my family in a rented 29' RV. The labs are coming along; the ferrets can't as they're illegal in California.

Professionally, Sparrow's sequel, First Daughter: White House Rules, releases in the spring of 2008 (Dutton) and a more literary YA novel will be published by Delacorte / Random House in the fall of 2008, tentatively titled The Secret Keeper. A major revision is due to Francoise Bui (editor of Monsoon Summer) on Labor Day. In 2009, Charlesbridge will publish The Bamboo People, the story of a Burmese boy soldier and the Karenni refugee he meets in the jungle. It's my first novel to feature a male protagonist (two, actually), and I'm going to be working again with editor Judy O'Malley. Whew. It's good to be working, that's for sure--if only the stress of deadlines sent me gym-wards instead of fridge-wards.

Thanks for a fun interview, Kelly!

Today's SBBT schedule:

Tom & Dorothy Hoobler at Chasing Ray
Sara Zarr at Interactive Reader
Justina Chen Headley at Hip Writer Mama
Justine Larbalestier at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
Dana Reinhardt at lectitans
Brent Hartinger at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast:
Laura Ruby at Writing and Ruminating
Jordan Sonnenblick by Bildungsroman
Ysabeau Wilce at Finding Wonderland

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Checking in from the ChLA Conference 2

I was out walking amongst the fireflies (the single most wonderful thing about Smalltown) when I suddenly realized I never recapped Day Two of the Children's Literature Association conference. So here's what I found most interesting on Day Two:
  • A paper on why Christians in the U.S. object to the Harry Potter series. In short, this scholar chalked the objections up to: a) a general attitude in the U.S. that prose should be a window on the world and not imaginative and b) that many Christians in particular look to prose for instructions and fact.
  • A paper on the Narnia series and The Giver. The speaker argued that both texts could be read as steeped in Christian imagery and that the Narnia series was not any more heavy-handed or proselytistic than The Giver. I didn't agree with her, but the paper was well written, interesting, and the discussion was great.
  • One scholar (on a great panel on Multicultural Children's Books) argued that the "most effective [multicultural] books are ones that 'other' the white middle class reader." She used one of Jacqueline Woodson's books as a particularly good example of this technique.

It was a great conference overall. Highly recommended!

Personal Policies Meme

I've been tagged by NYCTeacher for the Personal Policies meme. Like Vivian, I have to admit that this was not an easy one for me. I really had to think about whether or not I even have policies. Here's what I've come up with:

1) I always read before going to bed. Always have, always will. When my eyes go, I'll listen.
2) Like Vivian, I like a good morning with the kids before school. Even though it's always a rush, I treasure this time with them. I always take them to school, even though my eldest takes the bus home a few days a week.
3) I have to have mineral water in the house or I go crazy. I'll go out in the middle of the night if we're out.
4) The second I walk in the door, I change into pajama pants. Home=pajama pants=the good life.
5) To edit my own writing, I have to use a certain Pentel pencil, .9 mm, 2B lead. It's the only writing instrument to which I'm loyal and true.

I tag you all!

SBBT is here!

The Summer Blog Blast Tour has begun, with the first interview appearing on its own today. Check out today's interview with Gene Yang at Finding Wonderland.

You can find the entire schedule here at Chasing Ray. I have the pleasure of hosting Mitali Perkins here tomorrow!

Weekend Reviews (II)

I'm back home in Smalltown for a few days before taking off again.* There have just been tons of reviews available online this weekend, so here's the second part of the roundup.

Jackie Braun considers books for the youngest readers (including the great Who's Hiding) in The Flint Journal.

Naked Bunyip Dancing, by Steven Herrick, is the Times Children's Book of the Week.

Susie Wilde reviews activity books for the Raleigh News & Observer.

In this week's Observer: Kate Kellaway reviews Tim Lott's Fearless and Alice Hoffman's Incantation. (She loves the second one.)

Mike Lupica's Summer Ball is the Washington Post KidsPost Book of the Week.

* Has anyone noticed that air travel becomes just worse and worse every year? It seems like it would be impossible for it to get worse, but somehow it does. After this trip, I've decided that if I'm headed to the East Coast, I'm driving. 'Cause it's only 1000 miles to the Atlantic. And, you know what? It's cheaper and less stressful to drive two days. It took me longer to get to Virginia than if I had driven and that's including a 12-hour hotel stay in the driving plans. Seriously. From now on, if the trip contains more than 1000 miles, I'll fly. Fewer, and it's the car. (This kvetch comes from the "it's my blog" category.)

Friday, June 15, 2007

Weekend Reviews (I)

Whew! I hope you are all enjoying your Saturday and have time to read some weekend reviews, as they are varied and many this week. I had to get up early to read. I have a busy day ahead with a major treat at its end--I get to meet MotherReader!

Here are the reviews up so far:

Josh Lacey reviews The Devil's Breath, by David Gilman, for the Guardian.

Bob Minzesheimer recommends four new children's books in USAToday.

It's children's books week at the New York Times. Here's what you can find in the Sunday Book Review:

Elizabeth Ward is back in the Washington Post with her children's book column. Here's what she reviews this week:

  • A Good Day, by Kevin Henkes
  • Has Anyone Seen My Emily Greene? by Norma Fox Mazer
  • Little Donkey and the Birthday Present, by Rindert Kromhout, translated from the Dutch by Marianne Martens
  • A Promise is a Promise, by Florence Parry Heide
  • The Flying Bed, by Nancy Willard

Mary Harris Russell doesn't fail us! She's back in the Chicago Tribune with reviews of six new books, including:

  • Fabian Escapes, by Peter McCarty
  • Mama's Saris, by Pooja Makhijani, illustrated by Elena Gomez (Yay, Pooja!)
  • Bossy Bear, by David Horvath
  • Orange Pear Apple Bear, by Emily Gravett
  • Little Neighbors on Sunnyside Street, by Jessica Spanyol
  • The Wednesday Wars, by Gary D. Schmidt

Susan Perren considers five new titles for the Globe and Mail. They include:

  • The List, by Hazel Hutchins, illustrated by Maria van Lieshout
  • Monster, Don't Eat Me! by Carl Norac, illustrated by Carll Cneut
  • Old Mother Bear, by Victoria Miles, illustrated by Molly Bang
  • SOS: Stories of Survival: True Tales of Disaster, Tragedy and Courage, by Ed Butts
  • Mistik Lake, by Martha Brooks

More tomorrow, along with update #2 from the Children's Literature Association conference and a review of Ellen Wittlinger's Parrotfish.

Get your maggot gear!

Hey all you maggots (i.e., book bloggers) out there!* Syntax of Things has created a series of products just for you. Each t-shirt, mug, etc. says "Litblogs. [disgusting maggot picture] eating, posting, gloating...Living!"
* I apologize if someone else has already posted a link to these fabulous products. I've been on the road and have been reading in a hit-or-miss fashion.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Poetry Friday: Baba Yaga

Since I have Baba Yaga on the mind, I'm linking to "Baba Yaga's Daughter," by Taiko Haessler for this Poetry Friday. Head on over to Endicott Studios read the poem in its entirety. It's a thought-provoking, trickster poem.

Today's roundup will take place at The Simple and the Ordinary.

Checking in from the ChLA Conference

Today was day one of the Children's Literature Association Annual Conference located this year in Newport News, Virginia. I've never been in this area of Virginia before (near Williamsburg) and let me say that it is just beautiful. Trees, trees, and more trees.

Today I gave a paper on Baba Yaga in Anglo-American picture books and attended a number of interesting panels. Here's what I found most interesting on day one:
  • A panel called "Generational/Cultural Differences" focused on generational differences between immigrant parents and their first-generation children. Because the books the panelists studied were written long ago (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Farewell to Zanzibar, among them), a discussion began as to what would be considered "typically American" now to a child with immigrant parents. Audience members said, immediately, mall culture and consumerist behavior. This makes sense to me, but I have to wonder, is that all? What do you all think? What would a first-generation American consider "mainstream" American today?

  • A graduate student from the University of Pittsburgh presented a fascinating queer reading of Lilo and Stitch. She paid particular attention to the Hawaiian notion of "ohana" and the "family" who joins for dinner at the end of the film.

  • A graduate student from The New School presented an interesting paper on how the Holocaust informed Daniel Handler's A Series of Unfortunate Events. And, she wasn't reading into the books. Handler responded to her paper (alas, not in person) in detail.

More tomorrow...

SBBT is nigh!

The Summer Blog Blast Tour is almost upon us. A million and a half thank yous go to Colleen Mondor at Chasing Ray who heroically organized this massive, multi-author, multi-blog tour.

I have four talented authors visiting this site during the next week. They are:

Monday, June 18: Mitali Perkins
Tuesday, June 19: Sara Zarr
Thursday, June 21: Justine Larbalestier
Friday, June 22: Justina Chen Headley

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Poetry Friday article

Hey! Our very own Susan Thomsen has an article up on Poetry Friday at Don't miss it! Susan calls Poetry Friday an "online literary happy hour, without the drinks." I raise my glass of ice tea to you, Susan, for such a lovely article.*
And to you, Anne, for your job as editor of the children's pages at

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Out and About

Well, it was great fun reading First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover and hosting the main character, Sameera Righton. Make sure to catch the rest of the tour if you have a chance.

I'm currently in Williamsburg, Virginia, and starting tomorrow, I'll be attending and blogging the Children's Literature Association conference. It took me 26 hours to get here, for some unknown reason (Thanks, United!), so I'm hoping the conference will be another good one.

In the meantime, here are some things I've noticed out and about in the kidlitosphere:

Fuse is in her new home and looking good. Make sure to update your links! I'll be following my own advice this weekend.

Liz B. responds to yet another blog vs. print article at A Chair, a Fireplace and a Tea Cozy. Her response is excellent and really makes you wonder--when are these anti-blog people just going to call it a day? Seriously.

Colleen Mondor goes proactive on us all and explains the impetus behind the Summer Blog Blast Tour at Chasing Ray. It's going to be a fun week.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Welcome, Sparrow!

You've reached the second stop in Sameera Righton's blog tour. Let's get acquainted...

Kelly: Welcome, Sameera! Or should I call you Sparrow? This is the first time I've hosted a fictional character here at Big A little a, and I can't wait to hear what you have to say.

Sameera: Thanks, Dr. H. Either name is fine. Anything but Sammy, which is what the campaign people tried to call me when I first hit the trail with my parents.

Kelly: Your road to the White House was an interesting ride. What was the most difficult part about campaigning for your father?

Sameera: All the in-your-face personal questions! I wasn't used to strangers acting like they knew me better than my friends. And reporters used such personal info about me, too, like the fact that I coxed, and like classic movies, and even the name of the orphanage in Pakistan where my parents found me. It was more than freaky at first, but I got used to it. I've even learned how to banter with the rhinos (that's Ran's and my code name for paparazzi, BTW). Bantering is a great talent to have when you're in the spotlight.

Kelly: What was most surprising to you about the people you met when on the campaign trail?

Sameera: How much I connected with older people! Maybe I inherited some ancient South Asian respect-your-elders gene, or maybe it's because I love my grandparents so much, but I absolutely love schmoozing with seniors.

Kelly: Are you mad at your cousin Miranda for vamping it up for the media when you were staying at your Grandparents' Ohio farm?

Sameera: Mad? No way. Can't get mad at Ran no matter what she does. I was more...worried, I guess. She so wants to be famous, but she doesn't get how the celebrity machine can shred you.
Kelly: As First Daughter, what do you think are the most important issues facing the United States today?

Sameera: Keeping America safe and sound AND friendly and welcoming at the same time. How do you do that? Helping the planet become more peaceful and just AND leaving other countries alone to take care of themselves. Can you do both? Getting rid of waste, hate, and hunger. That last one, especially, is my favorite dream.

Kelly: Why did you think it was important to take your private blog public? What have you learned by doing so?

Sameera: I got tired of other people trying to represent the real me. I am the real me, thank you very much. I like writing stuff I think about--not what some middle-aged marketing expert thinks a First Daughter should sound like. What did I learn when Sparrowblog went public? That if you care too much what other people think, your shouts quickly morph into whispers. Next thing you know you totally lose your voice. It's all about truth and love if you want to survive out there in cyber-world.

Kelly: Are you worried about not seeing your parents much in the future? Will your mom be able to keep working?

Sameera: My parents have already spent years trying to save the world but we've always managed to carve out time for the three of us. Sundays have always been our family chill days. Mom will definitely find a way to keep fighting for her causes, and I'm sure a First Ladyhood would give her the chance to talk about her refugees non-stop. So I'm not too worried about either of those issues.

Kelly: Do you miss your school and your friends in Brussels? Are you worried about the new school year? Have you kept up your math skills?

Sameera: Do we really have to talk about math, Dr. H.? Two more years and then I'm done with that four-letter word forever. That's why laptops come with calculators, right? (I hope my tutor's not reading this; I'll probably have to write a five-paragraph essay on why mad skills in math are so important.)

Do I miss my school in Brussels? Yeah, I miss it. I miss my guys on the crew team, and my newspaper buddies. But campaigning is fun, too. And I've made new friends, like the South Asian students at G-dub, and Mariam. And Bobby, of course.

Kelly: How do you think President Righton will handle dating in the White House? (Hey, did Bobby ever call?)

Sameera: President Righton will handle dating in the White House by letting his daughter make her own decisions about guys. He knows I've got sense. And Bobby? Well, that's a long story. You'll have to read First Daughter: White House Rules to find out what happened.

Kelly: If you could concentrate on any one political or social issue as First Daughter, what would you choose and why?

Sameera: I don't think any kid on the planet should go to sleep hungry. I'm going to use my FD megaphone to shout a lot about that. I've already talked a lot about slave trafficking, so I'll keep yelling some about that one, too.

Kelly: Okay, now on to some personal questions:

a) Who is your favorite writer?

Let's talk screenplays, since I prefer getting my story fixes from the big screen. I like the old-fashioned stuff--like the scripts written by of Ernst Lehman (Sabrina, The King and I, North by Northwest, West Side Story, The Sound of Music). Nowadays, how about Sabrina Dhawan (Monsoon Wedding), Frank Cottrell Boyce (Millions), Cameron Crowe (Jerry Maguire) Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine), M. Night Shyamalan (Sixth Sense) or Scott Frank (Minority Report), J.J. Abrams (Regarding Henry)?

b) What's your favorite band?

I'm such a mix that I don't like picking just one favorite. I love country mostly because Ran does, so Rascal Flatts is up there. Old-school tunes from musicals like The Sound of Music and all the Disney flicks we grew up with (Lion King 2 has some great songs). But hip-hop and R&B are awesome, too, and I've been into Akon and Chris Brown and Mary J. Blige and Beyonce. I'm also getting better at bhangra dancing so I'm getting up to speed on Bollywood music these days, and downloading songs by classic vocalists like Lata Mangeshkar, whose voice just soars.

c) What is your favorite meal?

Sunday after-church supper at my grandparents' house--roast chicken, hot rolls, rosemary potatoes, fresh salad, and a cold glass of Campbell Dairy Farm milk. Followed by my cousin's AMAZING homemade frosted oatmeal scotchies, of course. All eaten around the big wooden table with Jingle, the family Lab, asleep on my feet.

d) If you could visit any place in the world, where would you go and why?

My grandparents' farm in Maryfield, Ohio. Because it's home. I've been around the world a lot, and guess what? Dorothy was right. Pass the ruby slippers.

e) What is your favorite item of clothing?

I like the hot new outfits the fashionistas put together during the campaign, but there's nothing like the combo of a pair of old jeans and a long, loose kurta shirt.

f) Who are your favorite actors (male and female)

Yikes. Too hard. Too many. Bogart and Hepburn rock. But Amitabh Bachchan can sing and act.

g) What is your favorite movie?

Casablanca, of course.

h) What is your favorite song?

America the Beautiful. Hey, I'm a First Daughter, remember? But I'm not just giving you the party line, Dr. H.--every time I hear that song, I get the good kind of shivers. Especially that part about "my home, sweet home," because I know I didn't get here by accident. It was definitely my destiny. Oh, geez, I'm getting all Star Wars on you now, so I'd better sign off. Thanks for coming up with such great questions.

Check out Sameera's video here at YouTube and her blog at Sparrowblog.

Catch the rest of Sameera's blog tour here:

Monday, 6/11: 5 Minutes For Mom and Jennifer Snapshot
Tuesday, 6/12: Big A little a
Wednesday, 6/13: Semicolon
Thursday, 6/14: Jen Robinson's Book Page
Friday, 6/15: Little Willow
Monday, 6/18: Sara's Hold Shelf

Review: First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover

Imagine your dad were running for President of the United States. This scenario is conflict in and of itself, but now add to the mix issues of foreign adoption, race, and a press gone mad. That's Sameera (Sparrow) Righton's life at the end of her sophomore year of high school in Mitali Perkins' First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover.

Sameera leaves her multinational high school in Brussels for the craziness of a presidential campaign in the States. She'll miss her friends--who are from all over the world--but she's determined to help campaign for her father and, so, relies on her MyPlace page to keep in touch with her friends.

Upon her arrival she's met by Tara, Dad's PR person who is in charge of the Rightons' image. Sameera gets all dolled up in Beverly Hills and Tara's webguy creates and writes a Sameera blog, complete with manga-like Sameera images. Sameera likes the real makeover, but the virtual one chafes. When discussions of her "race" (Sameera was adopted by the Rightons in Pakistan) turn up in the press, Sameera goes along with Tara and the webguy, allowing her image and even her name to be changed--to Sammy.

When the press shows up to Sameera's summer haven--her grandparents house in Ohio--she's had enough. She returns to Washington to be with her parents and takes control of her own image, starting up her own blog (Sparrow Speaking! Listen Up!) and even making friends with members of a George Washington University group, South Asian Republican Students.

First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover isn't about politics or, even, the presidential elections. It's about fame, finding one's own true voice, and being responsible for your own image. Sameera is a likable, strong female character and you'll cheer for her triumphs and discoveries.

First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover is the first in a series--one I'm certain will be a hit with readers ages ten and up.
Sameera (Sparrow) Righton is on a blog tour. Here's her schedule:

Monday, 6/11: 5 Minutes For Mom and Jennifer Snapshot
Tuesday, 6/12: Big A little a
Wednesday, 6/13: Semicolon
Thursday, 6/14: Jen Robinson's Book Page
Friday, 6/15: Little Willow
Monday, 6/18: Sara's Hold Shelf

This is the first time a fictional character will visit my blog and I'm excited to get to know her better.

A surprise for laureate!

Update: Michael Rosen already speaks out in the Guardian. His goal, he says, will be to "fight to bring back into classrooms a love of reading for pleasure."