WHEN AIDAN BECAME A BROTHER, hooray!!

There are tons of books I can’t wait to see in 2019. Every year, I love the steps publishing, especially small and independent publishers, take towards being more reflective of the reality of the current world we live in. We are not making near enough strides fast enough but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t celebrate the victories and the new additions to the market. In fact, celebrating these books, talking about them, sharing them in our professional networks and basically building word of mouth buzz (and SALES) for them helps ensure there can be MORE of the kind of titles we want to see: titles from marginalized creators reflecting the truth of the world and the truth of their experiences.

That’s why this week I have been so excited to be part of the campaign to get people excited for When Aidan Became A Big Brother by Kyle Lukoff, illustrated by Kaylani Juanita. It’s a 2019 title from Lee & Low and this week I’ve been revealing illustration spreads from the book along with thoughts from Kyle about writing the book and his thoughts on the illustrations. It’s been a real joy to share these images and hear Kyle’s thoughts AND watch people get to find out about Aidan and it it on their radars. This is an (all too rare) picture book about a trans boy written by a trans author. It is also a joyful celebration of families, new siblings, and finding your community. It fills a lot of collection gaps and because of Kyle’s tender, immediate, realistic writing and Kaylani’s wonderful illustrations it’s also just a genuine joy. I can’t wait for everyone to have a chance to share this book and I especially can’t wait for trans boys to see themselves reflected so lovingly and truthfully in these pages.

Today I am going to share the cover !! and some thoughts from Kyle and Kaylani. If you want to see the other amazing illustrations I shared throughout the week, you can see them in this Twitter thread (unrolled here for easier reading) AND I have an extra special giveaway on Twitter thanks to Lee & Low – if you head over to my Twitter and retweet the cover and follow Kyle you have a chance to win one of three copies of When Aidan Became A Big Brother (US addresses only)

The release date for When Aidan Became A Big Brother has moved from May to June – the new release is June 4th so put it on your calendars now and add it on GoodReads!

Kyle’s thoughts:

When I first considered writing a picture book about a trans boy, I mostly thought about what I didn’t want to do. I didn’t want to use that old trope of being “trapped in the wrong body.” I didn’t want to talk about his body at all; trans people are more than our bodies. I also didn’t want him to deal with bullying or transphobia–not from family members, not from other kids. Our lives are more than just the experiences we have to survive. I wanted to focus on the joy of self-expression, the unconditional love families can provide, and the possibilities for change that trans people create in the world. As a librarian, a writer, and a transgender man, I hope that you make room for WHEN AIDAN BECAME A BROTHER on your bookshelf, because I’m sure that kids like him already have a place in your heart.”

Kaylani’s thoughts:

“I was really excited to illustrate WHEN AIDAN BECAME A BROTHER because it’s a fresh perspective on an underrepresented topic within kids lit. Kyle did an amazing job writing— I wanted the illustrations to seem sweet and charming like the manuscript. As a queer artist, I’m very grateful for the opportunity to illustrate such a special story!”

WOW I love everything about this cover. Look at Aidan’s awesome shirt and amazing hairstyle – look at how his parents are so fully supporting him, holding him up, and embracing him with love. You can feel the warmth and strength literally radiating off this cover – it’s a book full of family love just waiting to be on shelves all over the world!

I hope you’re as excited about this book as I am – and I hope you’ll start sharing word about it with all your colleagues. Join me over on Twitter for a chance to win a copy from Lee & Low and let’s keep this conversation going and growing so we can see more books like Aidan out there.

If you want to know a little more about Kyle and Kaylani, please check out their bios and visit/add them on social:

KYLE LUKOFF is the author of A Storytelling of Ravens, which Kirkus Reviews called “not to be missed” in a starred review. After a decade as a bookseller he now works as a school librarian New York City, and has been involved in trans communities since 2004.” You can find him online at www.kylelukoff.com, @Shekels_Library, and facebook.com/kylelukoffwrites.

 

KAYLANI JUANITA describes her mission as an artist as “supporting the stories of the underrepresented, and creating new ways for people to imagine themselves.” Her work has appeared at the Society of Illustrators and on the BBC website, as well as in her first picture book, Ta-Da!, written by Kathy Ellen Davis. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Look for her online at kaylanijuanita.com and @kaylanijuanita on Twitter and Instagram.

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LOCK & MORI – Interview & Giveaway

I’m finally back from vacation and back on track now that school has started.  PHEW is there any rush like the end of summer programs meeting the beginning of the school year? After all the delays and holidays I am finally returning to Lock & Mori which was released YESTERDAY – wheeeeee! You might remember my overwhelming affection for this modern day re-telling of the Sherlock Holmes canon featuring a female teenage Moriarty (yes) and a teenage Sherlock solving mysteries and kissing as they hurtle towards their fate from my last blog.  Today, I have an interview with author Heather W. Petty AND I’m giving away a copy of Lock & Mori! Onto the interview!

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How were you first introduced to Sherlock and the work of Arthur Conan Doyle?  Did you always want to write your version?

I read the stories when I was a teenage murder mystery addict, but they weren’t my favorite, if I’m being honest. I was way more into Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie. But rereading the stories more recently was really interesting. The narrative style really holds up for a modern reader. I think the first-person narrative mixed with some of the more progressive ideals presented in the stories are why derivative works have been so popular throughout the years.

How did you decide to write from Mori’s POV instead of Sherlock’s?

From the start, I wanted to tell the story from the perspective of the villain. It was the biggest part of the appeal of the idea for me, really.

Why did you choose to set the story in present day?

I wasn’t really interested in writing a historical, so pulling the characters into the present day was a pretty easy decision.

I know you don’t want to spoil the next two books – but are you planning on introducing more characters from canon (in your own versions, of course!)24885790

The book is an origin story, so I’m trying to match up this story with an alternate, modern version of what happens in the canon. That means a lot of the characters introduced in the canon aren’t necessarily available to me. But I can’t answer this specifically yet. For reasons. 🙂

Do you have some recs for other YA mysteries?

YES! One of my favorites of the 2015 debuts is Mary McCoy’s DEAD TO ME. It’s Golden Age Hollywood noir perfection. I love that book so much! I also really loved TEN by Gretchen McNeil, UNSPOKEN by Sarah Rees Brennan, and THE BOOK OF BLOOD AND SHADOWS by Robin Wasserman. Finally, keep 2016 in mind. Kristen Crowley Held has the cutest most hilarious mystery coming out in March called HOLDING COURT. And in June 2016, Bill Cameron has a YA mystery called PROPERTY OF THE STATE coming out that is BRILLIANT. I literally can’t wait to get my hands on a finished copy when it publishes just so I can reread it again and again.

Rank your favorite versions of Sherlock?  (note: it is OK to have The Great Mouse Detective as number one)

I couldn’t possibly rank them. I will say that House was probably, to me, the most unique derivation so far—so unique many people don’t realize it’s a Sherlock derivative work. And there’s a special place in my heart for the Jeremy Brett Sherlock from ITV’s various Sherlock series in the 80s and 90s. That show is probably what made me first fall in love with Sherlock and want to read the full canon. (As an aside, I saw Great Mouse Detective in the theaters when it first came out! Aaaaand, now I feel like the oldest ever.)

Find Heather online: website | Twitter |Facebook | Goodreads

Thank you, Heather!  I sometimes forget House is a Sherlock reboot too!  I love when stories come back over and over in different ways, I think it’s one of the things that really drew me to Lock & Mori.

ARE YOU DYING TO READ IT YET?  Since it’s out now you can order a copy of your very own!  Or you can go check it out from your local library (if don’t have it, suggest they purchase it.) AND YOU CAN WIN A COPY HERE!  All you have to do is leave a comment on this blog by Wednesday, September 23 and I’ll select a random winner.

Get on the case already! (sorry, I couldn’t resist …)

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The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch by Chris Barton, illustrated by Don Tate – review & a SIGNED giveaway!

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What a lovely marvel this book is.

This is a picture book biography of John Roy Lynch, who was freed from slavery at 16 and within ten years was elected to the United States Congress.  The book doesn’t try to cover Lynch’s entire life (though there’s great back matter including a timeline, suggestions for further reading, and detailed author and illustrator notes) but instead traces his childhood, early life, and the period he becomes involved in politics and a passionate promoter of the Civil Rights Act of 1865. It puts all of these events in Lynch’s life in the larger context of Reconstruction in America. And two key questions that come up when considering this book are: why Reconstruction and why John Roy Lynch?

I believe because this is a story from over 140 years ago that is still relevant in all the things that are happening around us every day. This is a story that will challenge young readers to think about America and opportunity and history in new ways. This is not an easy read – but it’s engaging, compelling, and perfect for starting discussions with kids. Not only do I believe children can handle tough discussions, I believe we owe it to them to teach them to think critically about hard issues. What I love about The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch is that it shows children a hard period in American history and doesn’t flinch away from it.  More than that, it asks the reader to think about how these systems of inequality impact the world we live in today.

Lots of this is due to Barton’s clear-headed and even-handed writing.  John Roy Lynch is not held up as a perfect person, instead he comes across as someone hungry to learn and honest at all costs.  He seems real.  We meet him as a young boy, enslaved and already clued in to the racket of slavery.  We follow him through his time growing up and gaining freedom in many senses of the word.  And as the reader learns about Lynch’s life, Barton also shows us what reconstruction was like – the great strides in freedom and equality that came for many African-Americans is shown alongside the fierce retaliation from white Americans.  This is no easy biography – by choosing to put Lynch’s life in context, Barton not only shows how truly amazing his life’s journey was but how brutal the backlash to Reconstruction was. (and slavery is also shown as a brutal institution perpetuated by white people, specifically in Lynch’s case his master’s wife, who hid behind Christian dogma. Again, this is a clear-headed choice which makes the narrative stand out and ring true.) This is a book that elicits discussion with kid readers:  what could have John Roy Lynch’s life and career looked like without the backlash against Reconstruction?

The other stand-out element in this book are Don Tate’s illustrations which, like Barton’s text, are clear-headed and sharp-focused.  Tate’s illustrations are beautiful, there’s that.  There are a few scenes-  Lynch standing on a hill in the silhouette of a sunset, Lynch orating to a crowd of mostly African-American men that are just beautiful and inspiring in the purest sense of the word.  But Tate’s illustrations are also very smart and, let’s be honest, brave. It’s brave to show the KKK in full terror mode on the ride in a children’s book, it’s brave to show black men being whipped and threatened during slavery and afterwards.  Brave because there are going to be many people who say, “That doesn’t belong in a children’s book!” and brave because there are going to be people who say, “Yes, racism was bad but there’s no reason to be so GRAPHIC about it.”  But Tate knows that’s a lie.  There IS a reason to show these things – because children deserve the truth, because John Roy Lynch’s story isn’t complete without this, because these are the things John Roy Lynch and his contemporaries lived through and it informs their struggles and their triumphs and kid readers should know and think about that.

Let’s take a look at some of my favorite illustrations.

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This is a two-page spread looking at the reaction in Mississippi to the days after freedom.  I love how Tate has chosen to show the whole landscape here – the fury on the face of the white people, the sorrow on the face of the African-Americans.  There is a lot happening here, it’s not all easy to see, but it’s important. And again, this is a picture that shows the reader the depth and stakes of a story.  Great stuff.

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I think this is one of the smartest pictures in the book – a class of white children learn in a public school … and in the background, we see a small window of John Roy Lynch listening and learning.  Tate lets readers see how Lynch was excluded from so-called public institutions but how his curiosity and hunger to learn were unstoppable.

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Another favorite: Barton’s text talks about John Roy’s rise in both politics and his personal life.  This description of John Roy’s determination is perfectly illustrated by Tate, who gets across the charisma and force of presence John Roy would have certainly had to have.  And oh my goodness how fabulous is THIS image of African-Americans – an almost entirely African-American crowd is enthralled by John Roy – showing the reader a lot about the strides happening for African-Americans in the era, with John Roy Lynch leading the way.

Everything about The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch is special.  It’s a book that asks children to think big thoughts and ask hard questions about eras of history that are too often glossed over and about the era we live in now.  It’s ambitious, interesting, original and very beautiful.  It’s meant to be shared and discussed with kids and I recommend it as a first purchase for public libraries looking to enrich their children’s non-fiction collection and especially for elementary school librarians and classroom teachers working with 3rd-6th grades. It’s a great supplement for history lessons and will hopefully make young learners even more curious about our country’s history, all the parts of it – the amazing and hard ones.

AND I’M GIVING A COPY AWAY!
Not just a copy but a copy signed by both Chris Barton and Don Tate.

To enter, all you need to do is leave a comment on this blog by Friday, June 5th. 

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The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch is out now and if you can’t buy a copy, check one out from your library. If they don’t own one, request they add it!

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The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick – an interview & a giveaway!

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I honestly can’t think of anyone in YA who does what Marcus Sedgwick does.  Perhaps this is why I am so entranced by everything he’s ever written.  Sedgwick won the Printz Award last year (that is the highest honor in young adult literature) for Midwinterblood, which remains one of the most atmospheric and overwhelming YA books I’ve ever read.  Since then he also wrote an amazing book about a blind girl who is not defined by her disability but by her will (She is Not Invisible) and created this week’s new release – The Ghosts of Heaven.

ThenGhosts of Heaven is one of my favorite books of 2015.  I know, it’s early.  But I also know that this book is special. I could give you a summary of The Ghosts of Heaven, I suppose.  It’s four stories told in four different styles that can be read in any order or not even necessarily together at all. (But once you read one, you’ll want to read them all, I promise.)  The one thing they have in common is Sedgwick’s unbelievable sense of pacing – this man can wind a story like no one else around. The second story, The Witch in the Water, reminded me of Nathaniel Hawthorne. It is about a witch hunt and much more and the sense of impending malice and tension in it was so perfectly created that I honestly had to put it down a few times to take a breather from it. The last section, The Song of Destiny is a mystery set on a spaceship sent out to colonize a planet and it was so beautifully crafted it made me cry with joy. Now THAT is some writing.

These Ghost of Heaven is also united by the image of a spiral, which is found through-out all the stories and weaves them together in the smallest and yet also most significant ways. It’s haunting and subtle and just a little brilliant to wind a story around a spiral.  And the use of the spiral is a great narrative device that makes it easy to step into any of the four stories and follow the thread of them.  The spiral is a little creepy, yeah, but also totally beguiling – which is the perfect combination in a book for teens.

Teens – yes, there’s that question you’re dying to ask.  Sure, Sedgwick’s books are smart and LITERARY~~ but, I mean do teens like them?  Yeah, they sure would.  Look, I’m not telling you every reader is going to be on board with Sedgwick’s books – but there’s NO book that “every” reader is on board with, no matter what you’ve heard.  But I don’t even think his writing is just for the NON reluctant reader (one of my favorite concepts) I think there’s something haunting, creepy, compelling, and ENTICING about Marcus Sedgwick’s books.  They whisper of things just out of sight, things in shadows, things you feel dance across your skin in the quiet.  C’mon now – that’s perfect for teens. And for that teen that just keeps BEGGING for something new, something else, something different, something more (you know the one) … Marcus Sedgwick is perfect.

With that, this is highly recommended as a first purchase for libraries. It will appeal to a wide section of teen readers, from those looking for a challenging read to those looking for a quick short story, especially if you give it the kind of booktalk that highlights the mystery and original atmosphere through-out time.

When I had the chance to participate in the book tour for this title, I jumped up faster than Katniss at the Reaping. ESPECIALLY when I was told that I’d have a chance to ask Marcus Sedgwick some questions about the book.  One of the best things about Ghosts of Heaven is that it’s simply meant to be talked about – there’s so much to be discussed!

Not only that, the awesome publishers are giving away a copy – perfect for adding to your library!  All you have to do to enter is leave a comment on this entry by January 19. (US residents only)

The whole tour is pretty cool: there are reviews, more giveaways, and more interviews so you should check out the whole schedule to find out more about the book. You can also read a summary and the first forty pages.

BUT WHAT ABOUT THE QUESTIONS I ASKED MARCUS SEDGWICK THAT HE ANSWERED IN THE BEST WAYS POSSIBLE THAT MADE ME JUST WANT TO RE-READ THE WHOLE BOOK OVER AGAIN BECAUSE THEY WERE JUST THAT FASCINATING?! Read on!

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Like Midwinterblood, The Ghosts of Heaven is a book of intertwined stories that COULD be read alone but work together to create a fuller picture. What draws you to writing this kind of narrative?

If it’s a truism to say that all writing is trying to work out what it is to be human, then there are perhaps broadly two ways of doing that – by working from the individual to speak of the universal, or by working from the universal to speak about the individual, because both are part of being human. With these two books I was attempting to look at things on a larger scale than the individual, to talk about large and eternal subjects, and yet, the paradox of that is, as I just said, that the way to do that was by using the individual. By using stories about several individuals across different times, I was hoping to convey a large feeling, an eternal atmosphere.

Can you talk about the specifics of how you wrote this narrative? Did you write it “in order” or create the order after the individual pieces were written?

I planned the four stories (and planning for me is half way towards the finished writing anyway) in bits and pieces, flitting backwards and forwards between the four ideas in my head as I felt like it, or as I found a particularly interesting thing in what I call research, or as something randomly pushed me in one direction or another. Once I had finalized things (as far as I was going to finalize things, at least) in my head, I wrote the stories in the order in which they appear in the book – a physical book being limited in this way of course, and though this order is important, there is another one that I feel is of equal importance, but I’m keeping what that is to myself. I would like each reader to feel for themselves how the story might alter if the four parts were taken in a different order.

I am fascinated by the different narrative forms in the book – including verse to diary entries. Was this a deliberate choice to make each section have an even more unique voice?

Yes, partly, but it also stemmed from a very conscious choice about the section called Whispers in the Dark. Having decided that I wanted to set a story in a Neolithic period, in which we are witness to the very earliest origin of writing, I felt I had a problem. I cringe when I think of certain books and films that try to be authentic with stories set in prehistory. I’m thinking of films like One Million Years BC and so on, where cave men ‘ugg’ and ‘agg’ at each other and all have names with at least one K in them. The view of this stage of our history seems to require that we spoke in harsh and guttural tones. For all we know, we spoke in a mellifluous and beautifully lyrical language. But I would have had no more reason to create a language or accompanying atmosphere in that fashion either. The solution I felt was to write that part in free verse, to distance us somewhat from the world, and give it a remote and foreign feel. It meant I could basically avoid dialogue and direct narrative thought, which I felt would have been inauthentic, no matter what I did. So having one part in verse, I thought I should give each quarter a distinct narrative approach.

What are some literary inspirations for this work? Tonally, the third part, The Easiest Room in Hell, reminded me of Lovecraft and the second section, The Witch in the Water, reminded me of Hawthorne. (Maybe I’m totally off-base, but I loved the way each section seemed to allude to other classic works of literature.)

You’re spot on! Lovecraft was a big influence on the feel of Easiest Room – I’d been making some road-trips through New England, and it brought back memories of reading Lovecraft as a teenager. As an Englishman, I love seeing all the English place names transposed to New England – we have such a shared history and I feel fond of it. Lovecraft of course then did his own thing on top of that, and my character Charles Dexter is a direct reference (for those who know) to Lovecraft’s The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. That meant I got to write some poetry in the style that Lovecraft might have done, which was great fun. Witch in the Water has a feel of Hawthorne, I see what you mean, but that wasn’t conscious, though may have come through. I was trying to recreate the tone of classic accounts of witch trials – although I set my story in England, Diane Starkey’s fantastic book, The Devil in Massachusetts, captures what is scariest about all witch trials – the combination of claustrophobia and violence that propels their inevitability. I was also driven for this section by an obscure 60s thriller called Ritual, by David Pinner, from which the classic British horror film The Wicker Man was derived (and no, I’m not talking about the Nicholas Cage version!)

You never seem to write the same book twice! Even this book, which shares traits with Midwinterblood is different in pacing, setting, tone, and even theme. Are you consciously trying to innovate in your writing? Do you just get bored easily? 🙂 Where does the constant innovation come from?

Yes, yes, and I don’t know. Perhaps I should elaborate on that a little bit. Yes, I am consciously trying to innovate, and yes, I do get bored easily. That’s a direct way of saying that I’ve been writing for a reasonably long time now and I nearly stopped two or three times because I didn’t know where to go next. I don’t want to write the same book every time, but that makes things hard because there must be a finite number of times that I can do that. But that’s what I really want to do, and it’s important because to keep on doing things this way means I have to continually find something new to be excited about, and some new way of working. But I’m not complaining, I love a challenge when I’m writing and this makes sure that I keep setting myself new challenges. Where does the innovation come from? I’m not really sure, I think the only thing is that I try to be influenced by as wide a range of books, films and ideas in general in order to keep things fresh. So I don’t know what’s coming next. If I can’t set myself a new challenge, there may be no new books at all, but if there are, I can promise they will offer something new, or something new to me, at least.

Here’s me after reading Marcus Sedgwick’s answers and feeling like I understood the book so much more/wanted to read it again/got the literary moods and references right:

Actually, those are just my faces in general when it comes to Marcus Sedgwick’s books. (I could talk for a thousand years about Midwinterblood – perfect choice, my Printz friends.  What a stunner.) If you haven’t read a Sedgwick book, The Ghosts of Heaven is the perfect place to start.  Buy a copy, check it out from your library or recommend they buy a copy or …. leave a comment to enter to win one!

In any case: read it as soon as possible so we can discuss it and you can share it with your teen patrons!

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Stray by Elissa Sussman – a review, an interview and a giveaway!

Stray Cover
I think there’s something primal about fairy tale re-tellings.  I really do.  And I think that they are a staple of YA because of this very thing, because they say to teen readers: you can pull the sword from the stone, you can evade the evil step-parent, you can save the day.  And, yes, you can wear a beautiful dress and fall in love while doing it.  That’s a message worth hearing, and it’s one that I understand teens are drawn to time after time.  So!  If it’s a fairy tale re-telling, IU am on board.  But even if this weren’t a favorite genre of mine, I would have still absolutely adored Elissa Sussman’s magnificent debut Stray.

I love everything about Stray.  I love the fully realized magical world where women have strong magic that their patriarchal society has turned into a tool to shame and control them. I love the blending of fairy tales in a subtle and dark way – there’s a kingdom tangled in thorns and plenty of fairy godmothers but they are not what you remember and they are most certainly not what you expect.  (This is maybe the part I love the best – I am sick of fairy tale re-tellings where it’s a gentle tweak on the story or a happy kind of twist – Stray is unafraid to put sharper, darker edges on things and that makes it not just stand out from the pack but twice as readable as you rush to find out what happens next and HOW.) I love Aislynn the main character, who is not perfect, who makes stupid mistakes. She has more magic than she can manage and lives in a world that tells her that this is her fault and she must be punished for it. What I love the most about Stray is that it asks teenagers to consider if they agree.  It asks teen readers to actually sit down and think about how magic would be handled and who would try to control it and what a society would do to keep it under control.  What I love most about Stray is that it takes these questions about magic and turns them into questions about our world – about female autonomy, about class inequalities, about justice and love.  It makes the magic, it makes the stakes, real.

That’s what the very best fairy tales, re-tellings or not, do.  And that’s what Stray is.

Stray is on-sale now and I recommend it as a first purchase for public and high school libraries. Your fairy-tale fans will love it but I think it also has high appeal to fans of stories with darker edges.  If you can’t afford to buy a copy, recommend your library purchase one.  ALSO…I’M GIVING ONE AWAY! Aw yes!

I was more than excited when Elissa asked me to be part of Stray’s book tour!  “YES, A THOUSAND TIMES YES,” I instantly replied.  She agreed to answer some of my burning questions about the larger themes and genesis of Stray and they just made me love it more.

She’s also going to give away a copy of Stray AND a very cool tote bag (tote bag with a fairy tale slogan on it, bestill my heart!) to one lucky reader.  All you have to do is leave a comment on this post by October 15th and I will choose a random winner. (US only, please.)

Onto the questions … but first a picture of what you have a chance to win!!

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1. The fairy tale influences in Stray are, of course, obvious. But I felt a real Margaret Atwood Handmaid’s Tale vibe, particularly about the subjugation of women, in it. And I loved what you did with the undeniably feminist underpinnings of the story. Am I totally off-base or was this deliberate?

Thank you! I love it when people can see my feminist underpinnings (that sounded dirty). But seriously, yes, it was quite deliberate. I’m a huge fan of THE HANDMAID’S TALE. I think it’s a testament to how little things have changed that so many writers (because there have been several recent, excellent YA books dealing with similar topics) still feel that these are issues that still need to be addressed.

2. But back to those obvious fairy tale elements … there’s a blend of fairy tales and fairy-tale-like elements happening here. What inspired you to weave these particular elements/stories together in this way?

There’s that saying “write what you know”, but I really think it’s “write what you like”. And I really like fairy tales. And feminism. And food. I basically let those things simmer in my brain pot for a few years, occasionally tossing in bits of familiar fairy tales until it turned into the stew that is now STRAY.

3. I know you have a history in animation. Parts of Stray felt, in the very best of ways, like a darker, deeper version of not just classic fairy tales but of the Disney/pop culture variants most teens will be familiar with. Was this intentional? An inevitable byproduct of your work and our culture?

The very first inkling of STRAY was born out of my love for animated movies, and my attempt to reconcile my feminist leanings with my love for a genre that historically has not been very welcoming or respectful of women. I wanted to write a story that addressed the problems I had with most princess movies, while still paying homage to them.

One of the wonderful things about fairy tales is how layered they are. Each new version builds off of the old one. And for me, someone who grew up with Disney films, it made perfect sense to construct STRAY with those pop culture elements.

4. Besides being a genuine pleasure to read – a fairy tale yarn full of action, surprises, strong characters, twists, and a dash of romance – what do you hope teen readers will take from Stray?

I’m a big fan of fantasy and fairy tale retellings, and I find there’s a particular type of heroine that is very popular in these stories. From page one, she has a fully formed feminist identity. She doesn’t want to follow cultural guidelines because she knows they’re restrictive and outdated.

I love those characters and when I was sixteen, I desperately wanted to be them. But I wasn’t. It took a long time for me to understand, let alone verbalize how restrictive the world can be to women, especially ones in their teens. And I’d look at the characters I idolize and wonder “how did they get there?”

There’s a learning curve when you’re that age. You’re just beginning to sort through all the bullshit, trying to figure out who you are and what you believe. Society works really hard to convince young women that sexism is over and that women’s right’s activists are humorless, sexless shrews. Did I prefer to (inaccurately) call myself a “humanist” over a “feminist” when I was in high school? You bet I did.

We expect a lot of young women, both fictionalized and real. I wanted Aislynn to be someone who’s at the very beginning of her journey. I wanted her to be naive, who believes things that maybe she shouldn’t, someone who makes mistakes. Because not all of us have the answer on day one. Or on page one.

5. Can you touch, ever so briefly, on the awesomeness of the title and the levels it works on? What’s the genesis of the title? Also – does this series have a larger name yet and when might we expect the next book? (note how I am politely not asking for any plot details though I crave them wildly!)

The title, as well as the concept of the Path, are inspired by the story of Little Red Riding Hood, and especially by the song “I Know Things Know” from the musical INTO THE WOODS. It’s also where a lot of the wolf imagery originates from – this idea that leaving the path, straying from it, will only lead to bad things.

STRAY and BURN are both Four Sisters Novels, because although each book exists in the same world and often has appearances from familiar characters, each will follow a new protagonist, or in BURN’s case, two new protagonists. It doesn’t have a release date yet, but I am having a really fun time working on it.

(I Know Things Know – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RK81Rv65fgQ)

Thank you SO MUCH, Elissa!  You can find out more about Elissa (including more about her history in animation and with Disney, which I alluded to in the interview) at her website.  Also, I follow her on Twitter and she’s just delightful so you should follow her on Twitter!  Comment for a chance to win this awesome book (and awesome tote, screenprinted by Elissa herself, what!) and hurry up and read it so I can discuss it with the world!

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Far From You by Tess Sharpe – a review & giveaways!

far fromA few weeks ago there was a longform article in the New York Times about scientific studies being done with the goal of proving that bisexuality exists.  I suppose it was interesting enough, reading about the motivations of the researchers, hearing about the history behind studies like this.  And yet.  And yet at the same time … it also felt brutally dehumanizing.

How demeaning – how beyond demeaning – to have your identity up for “scientific debate” like this.  Studies like this?  Real, academic studies and articles about them in a paper as significant as the NY Times?  They are the embodiment of WHY REPRESENTATION MATTERS.

When you see portraits of yourself – your life, your feelings, your struggles – when you see those in the world around you, in popular culture, in mass media: that matters.  It tells you that you are not alone, that you have a right to exist, that people before you have felt this very same thing.

Those of us who work with books for children and teens – we can NEVER forget this.  We can never get tired of sounding like a broken record, of buying and promoting and discussing these books and demanding more. Never, ever, ever.  Because they bring the truth to light.

The truth in Tess Sharp’s masterful debut Far From You is a slippery thing and that is part of what makes this story so very compelling.  What’s true is that Sophie, our main character, used to be an addict.  She got hooked on pain pills after a bad accident and has only recently been clean.  What’s true is that Sophie’s life-long best friend Mina was gunned down right in front of her in shattering, traumatic event.  What’s true is that everyone, even Sophie’s own mother, believes Mina was killed during a drug deal gone bad when she went with Sophie to score. What’s true is that Sophie has just returned home after Mina’s murder and after another stint in rehab.

But everything else, well, that’s not as clear.  Sophie knows the truth is that she was clean and she and Mina were following up on a lead in a story Mina was writing for the paper, which means that Mina was the target not the collateral. But Sophie doesn’t know who attacked them and doesn’t know the lead Mina was chasing And Sophie also knows that, no matter the cost, she is going to get to the bottom of what happened to Mina, no matter what anyone else believes.

One of the things I love the very best about this book (and I love so much about it) is that while there are multiple threads happening at once, it never feels overstuffed or distracted.  Instead, everything comes together to tell the singular story of Sophie finding her own path in the world.  Of course, this is a classic YA narrative and that’s part of what makes Far From You so satisfying – it is familiar and yet very fresh.

Far From You is a mystery: what happened to Mina and why?  How is all connected to the story Mina was digging into?  Sophie knows the scariest thing of all: whoever committed the crime is from their town and knows their stories because they planted drugs on her to throw the investigation off. Far From You is a story of recovery and addiction.  Sophie became addicted to painkillers after she was in a terrible accident that left her in agonizing pain and left her disabled.  How she copes with this and how it changes the person she was is fundamental to the larger elements of the story and her character development.

And I truly believe that beyond all that – Far From You is a love story. It’s a love story about the deep love between friends, between someone you have known for a long time and who has held your hand through the worst of your life.  Definitely.  And it’s also a love story between two teenage girls who have been friends for a long time but are on the cusp of finding themselves drawn to each other in a whole new way.  Yes, Far From You is a bisexual teen romance – one that is tender, tragic, a little swoony in parts, and, yes, very, very real.

I had to literally set the book down to blink back my tears at the moment Sharpe makes it clear that Sophie is bisexual. She doesn’t just like girls and she doesn’t just like boys.  She doesn’t like “only Mina” but then totally boys!  She is drawn to, romantically and physically, both sexes.  This realization is not dismissed, not disbelieved, not over-explained.  It just is.  It’s just part of who Sophie is.  And while it’s an important part of who Sophie is, it’s not the only defining one.  Just as important is the fact she’s a recovering addict, a girl who wrestles with chronic pain, a person mourning loss and trying to get to the bottom of a mystery.  I know it seems like so little but that moment, the moment when it all clears in Sophie’s head that she likes boy and she likes girls – she just doesn’t like this one particular boy … it just took my heart with all it meant. Being bisexual doesn’t mean you’re attracted to everyone.  Being bisexual doesn’t meant you’re attracted to just anyone.  It just means you’re attracted to members of both sexes.  In Far From You it is that simple and that simplicity is beyond. powerful. 

I think teen readers will LOVE Far From You.  The timelines shift between the “now” of Sophie’s life and investigation and the “then” of everything that brought her and Mina to their fateful final night, which creates natural cliff-hangers that keep you turning the pages.  And Sophie is a great lead character: her faults make her feel real and her determination to chart her own course makes her both sympathetic and someone you root for. It’s also the just right mix of sad and mysterious and romantic, with no one element overshadowing the others, giving it wide appeal across readers.

But more than that – I think teen readers NEED Far From You.  It’s a book we’ve been asking for. It’s a book that brings the truth to light, that gives faces and hearts and loves and losses and real damn life to bisexual girls and lesbians.  These are portrayals teens need.  This is a book that matters.

Far From You is out today!  You can pick up a copy at your favorite local indie bookstore or online. You can also check out a copy from your local library.  If they don’t have one, suggest they purchase it. Far From You is highly recommended as a first purchase for public libraries and high school libraries.  It’s a book that should be widely shared and widely known. And that’s why I’m giving two away.

How To Win A Copy of Far From You

I know not all library budgets might have the cash in them they deserve.  So since I want YOUR library to have this book on the shelves, I’m giving one away JUST FOR LIBRARIES.  To enter THIS drawing you must be working in a library and you must make sure your copy ends up on your library’s shelves for circulation.  Far From You should be in as many teen hands as possible and the goal of this drawing is to make sure it ends up in your library.

BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE!  I’m giving away another copy … that’s signed by Tess Sharpe!  Tess has awesomely agreed to sign a copy for my other winner.  You can keep this one, share it with a lucky teen, give it away as a drawing prize, whatever you’d like.  THIS drawing is open to everyone.

All you have to do is comment on this post (with a working way to contact you) and mention which drawing you are entering.  I’ll choose two random winners on Tuesday, April 14, so make sure you’ve entered by then..  Sorry, no international entries.

I am so glad I had the experience of Far From You.  It was an amazing read that was also a humanizing moment of recognition.  Far From You is the truth and, more than that, it’s the way into the light.


Also worth your reading time: this awesome interview with Tess on Diversity in YA

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Wise Young Fool by Sean Beaudoin – review & a SIGNED GIVEAWAY!

“Give me some genuine emotion. Challenge yourself to be honest instead of merely clever.”

Wise-Young-FoolI read Wise Young Fool for the first time months and months ago.  I have read many and many books since now and then.  And yet.  And yet Wise Young Fool has stuck with me through all that. And yet Wise Young Fool is a book I can’t get away from when I start thinking about not just my “favorites” of 2013 but the books I read in 2013 that I admired, deeply, on a craft level and was, to no small degree, awed by.  Wise Young Fool is a work of art – no really – that is about the power of art, it’s a book that is profoundly sarcastic and mean but also deeply moving.  All these months and months later I am still thinking about how all the pieces of it fit together. THAT is the kind of book Wise Young Fool is.

In a simple summary: Wise Young Fool is the story of how Ritchie Sudden ended up serving 90 days in a juvenile detention facility and, more specifically, the 90 entries in the “diary” he is forced to keep inside said facility, detailing how it is he ended up there.  So, it’s a frame story: the frame of the juvenile detention facility journal revealing the larger story of Ritchie’s life leading up to it.  It is also a frame story about how the completed journal has, ostensibly, ended up at Little, Brown and is now being published.  I know, that feels gimmicky, but Wise Young Fool is really about performances, both the deliberate observed on a stage kind and the deeper, sadder kind we sometimes do to keep people at a distance, and so this second frame story – the idea that Ritchie’s journal, not Sean Beaudoin’s novel, is now being published by Little, Brown – is actually essential to the story Beaudoin is telling about art and performance.  I do not at all think that Beaudoin believes he is “tricking” his teen readers into believing this is “all true” – that’s lazy.  I think, instead, he is asking something bigger of them; he is asking them to observe a story about performance as performance and to believe in the legends we tell.  And he is asking them to step outside the story and consider it as story.  This is ambitious and clever and it really works because it makes you, the reader, believe in Ritchie Sudden as a whisper and a possibility; a kid you might know and a song you might be humming.

Wise Young Fool, then, is a frame story inside a frame story – the journal from the juvenile detention facility framing the story of the year that got Ritchie there and then the larger frame of the manuscript making it to Little, Brown.  I love this kind of daring, I love this kind of craft. Beaudoin’s intricacy and care with the narrative is one of the things I admire most about the book.  But, oh, there are many others.

For instance: I love that this book is all about relationships … but not in the way you think.  This is a book about an extraordinarily close friendship between two slightly off-kilter guys, Ritchie and his bandmate and best friend El Hella. (Elliot to you) I love a friendship in YA done right: not perfect, but about how a real friend is there through all the mess of your life.  This is a book about the relationship Ritchie has with Looper, the woman who is his mother’s new girlfriend. (Looper showed up when Ritchie’s dad left.) Looper doesn’t cut Ritchie any shit and, better still, she talks to him not like an adult but like an adult talks to a teenager that they respect and care for.  It’s a really fully realized relationship and a great example of an adult who is present and there in a teen’s life – can never get enough of that in YA, after all.

And of all the great relationships in this book, best of all, this is also a book about the relationships between Ritchie and two girls: Ravenna and Lacey. Ravenna is the girl Ritchie has always loved from afar and Lacey is the girl that likes him more than he likes her.  And in a lesser book these girls would be lesser characters.  Yet in Wise Young Fool, Ritchie learns how wrong he was about both Ravenna and Lacey and, more than that, they are completely realized characters with their own agency and with their own selfish wants.  Ravenna isn’t just the luscious, sex-bomb dreamgirl Ritchie has lusted over.   Lacey isn’t just the complacent nice girl who pines for Ritchie.  They have their own wants and they make their own mistakes – they connect with Ritchie and even change him in some ways but they do not revolve around him. He is not their whole story and, by that same token, they are not his whole story either.  Ravenna and Lacey are fully realized characters who make the narrator richer and more complicated and they just happen to be girls that he is involved with, drawn to, and compelled to know. Ain’t that a kick in the head?!

Wise Young Fool is exceptionally clever and exceedingly funny.  Ritchie has a smart mouth that never quits and Beaudoin has a particular gift for the kind of high school boy shenanigans that make you wince and grin at the same time.  There are genuine laugh out loud moments laced through a book that is also about serious pain and loss. Ritchie’s loss and pain are great and not so easily escaped.  When Ritchie finds himself in the juvenile detention facility, he thinks that all he needs to do is keep his head down but the brilliance of Wise Young Fool is that it’s really a book about finally taking action in your life and finally confronting the grief and pain you’ve just been trying to keep your head down about.  Ritchie’s journal, his time in the juvenile detention facility; that’s all part of his song and all part of the way Ritchie learns it’s time for him to become active in his life again, to start healing and start coping and, yeah, start living.

There is darkness, grief, and loss in Wise Young Fool but also such damn resilience. It’s a book about how we survive and how we tell our stories through art and creation. And maybe more than anything, Wise Young Fool is a book about finding the right sounds for YOUR life and YOUR family and friends and YOUR story.

Without a doubt, it’s one of my favorite books of 2013.  All these months and months later and I am still thinking about it.  And I feel sure that if you give it a try, you will be too. It’s highly recommended as a first purchase for public libraries and as the exactly perfect book to suggest for your teens that love music, art, sad stories, funny stories, and something so real and true it aches. It’s on sale now and if you can’t buy a copy, go check one out from your local library.  If they don’t have copy, suggest they purchase it.

BUT ALSO!  Because he is the best (and possibly because one night I fangirl’ed over him so hard I scared him a little?)

the awesome and amazing Sean Beaudoin has agreed to give away A SIGNED COPY of Wise Young Fool to one lucky reader.

All you have to do to be entered is leave a comment and I’ll select a random winner. (Recent winners include Lauren of The Raucous Librarian, who won the Meg Medina books and  Karen from Yorkville, IL, who won the Anne Ursu book.  You could be next!)

Wise Young Fool and Ritchie Sudden – the way he gets lost in his pain but pulled back into the world through the strength of the people who believe in him and the power of the music he hears and strums out – they are the song.  I know, if you hear it, you’ll sing along.

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Anne Ursu’s The Real Boy – artwork reveal and SIGNED book give away!

Where to begin?  Where even to begin with a book this finely crafted, this breathtakingly realized, this clever, this full of love and aches and metaphors and, yes, magic? (but not the magic you’re thinking of – not the easy kind, not the kind that comes without consequences.)

The Real Boy is the story of Oscar, a shop’s boy for a magician in a land where magic and charms are bought by the very rich for their every little whim.  Oscar is no apprentice, mind you, he’s a boy who doesn’t know how to interact with people – who stays in the shadows and quiet to feel safe.  The “real” world, the world outside his plants and his companionship with his cats, is sometimes so scary and overwhelming to him that Oscar sometimes wonders if there’s something wrong with him.  But he doesn’t have to think of this much, not as long as he stays safe and tucked away, not as long as the magic works and the kingdom where he lives, the lovely Aletheia, stays protected and blessed by this magic.  It’s only when things start going wrong, very wrong, with the magic, with Aletheia, with everyone around Oscar that he is tasked with finding out the truth about the world he has taken for granted and the truth about what makes him so different. 

The best stories, the ones we tell over and over again, the ones we hug close, the ones that connect with something deep inside us, the best stories weave magic without ever once showing you where the seams are.  To be more precise and less florid about it – the best stories never show you their tricks and they never make their metaphors obvious.  This is what I love about Anne Ursu’s The Real Boy and *this* is what makes it one of the best stories: she takes what is such a thudding obvious metaphor (a boy who feels “wrong” and “not real” learns that he is in charge of his own identity and even destiny) and uses the magic of craft – rich language, fully-rounded characters, a well-paced, well-realized plot, to never once let you see it showing.  Instead, when all the pieces of The Real Boy click into place, you suddenly understand what story you’ve been hearing all along, and in that moment it all hits in the right places.

I’ve read The Real Boy three times since I received my first advance copy from the publisher months ago.  Every time, I have found some new detail in the way the story is put together.  Every time, I have found another passage of simple, clear, evocative writing. And every time I have admired the way it all clicks: the coming of age elements, the subtle jabs at using “magic” to escape the hard work of living, the way lies so often go unspoken by those in power because they make it easier to live with selfish actions and retain their control.

Since my first read of The Real Boy I was in love with the geographic reality of Aletheia.  Great fantasies have great fictional worlds and that’s what Ursu creates here.  Aletheia has magic forests, a vast terrain of mountains and rivers, blighted Plaguelands, and a city ringed with magic.  After much begging, the kind people at Walden Pond Press agreed to let me be part of the artwork reveal for The Real Boy.  In an instant, I asked if I could feature the map of Aletheia because, to me, it’s the perfect invitation to the wonder of this world. They agreed!  So, today, I am so happy to be able to bring you a glimpse at Aletheia.

Aletheia

All artwork copyright © 2013 by Erin McGuire

The Real Boy is a not always a nice, safe story.  Characters, characters central to the story, are killed.  Adults do terrible, selfish things and let children down.  In fact, in many ways this story reminded me of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series – where children are used and disguarded by the powerful adults in their universe; specifically by adults who are grasping at some kind of ephemeral magic.  And The Real Boy is scary in other ways too; ways about how frightening it is to know there’s something different about you, ways about how hard it is to step out of the safety of your childhood and into the wide, often harsh world.  These are themes that will resonate with children even if they aren’t fully conscious of why and how.

Really, there are so many elements of The Real Boy that are resonant with childhood’s struggles and triumphs: that’s one of the reasons I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it for months and months.  The Real Boy asks children BIG questions: how do we know who we are?  How do we “fit in” if we’re different?  What price would you pay for the simplicity of magic … and would you still pay it if you discovered that simplicity wasn’t so simple and cost more than you’d ever imagined?  There are no easy answers to these questions and this book doesn’t pretend to offer them.  To do so would betray the very things Ursu works so hard to create in this narrative.

What power there is in this story, what painful beauty. As Oscar unravels the very unpleasant secrets that live in the very soil of his country, of the shining city on a hill that he thinks he understands, he comes, through learning, challenging himself, and creating a support network, to discover the best of truths:

it is being different that makes us real.

The Real Boy is one of my favorite books of 2013 – heck, one of my favorite books of ever.  It’s currently longlisted for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and it is my dearest wish that it’s in serious discussion for the Newbery.  It’s out now and you can buy it!  If you can’t buy it, check it out from your local library.  If they don’t have it, request they purchase it.

AND because Walden Pond Press is so completely amazing, they not only let me share some art from the book but they’re giving away a signed copy to one blog reader.  All you have to do is leave a comment on this post before October 18th.

The Real Boy is highly recommended for readers aged 7-12 who like fairy tales with deep thoughts, heroes and heroines who step up and stand up, and, well, for any children you know who are different.  It will help them to know that their life, their real life, is theirs to experience on their own terms.

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Banned Books Week: an interview with Meg Medina and a GIVEAWAY!

“What kids need and deserve is to feel respected – not just by their classmates, but also by teachers and school leaders who ought to have faith in young people’s ability to read, think, and decide.” – Meg Medina

Yesterday, I wrote a short review of Meg Medina’s Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass and talked about a situation involving Meg  being uninvited from a middle school speaking engagement in Virginia because of the word ASS in the book’s title.  I wanted to know more about the situation, so I reached out to Meg.

I was so happy when Meg Medina agreed to answer a few questions about not only her work and her motivation, but her recent experience with being in the spotlight.

And then she sent back her incredible, thoughtful answers and I was beyond happy!

Below, you’ll find out a little bit more about Meg and her work, particularly the motivation for writing the wonderful Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass.  There’s also more information about the situation in Virginia and some really insightful commentary.

Meg Medina

Meg Medina is a Cuban American author who writes picture books, middle grade, and YA fiction. Her work examines how cultures intersect through the eyes of young people, and she brings to audiences stories that speak to both what is unique in Latino culture and to the qualities that are universal. Her favorite protagonists are strong girls. Her books are Milagros: Girl from Away; The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind; Tia Isa Wants a Car; and Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass. She is the 2012 winner of the Ezra Jack Keats New Writers Award. When she is not writing, Meg works on community projects that support girls, Latino youth and/or literacy. She lives with her extended family in Richmond, Virginia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Where does it end? When we only allow kids to read books that offend absolutely no one and that offer up nothing that makes them reflect on the uncomfortable realities of their lives?  – Meg Medina

Tell us a little bit about YAQUI DELGADO WANTS TO KICK YOUR ASS.  What was the genesis of the book?

Meg Medina: YAQUI DELGADO WANTS TO KICK YOUR ASS is the story of 16-year-old Piddy Sanchez who finds herself the target of a school bully at her new high school. Bullying is the main event in the novel but we cross lots of terrain, like cultural identity, relationships between mothers and daughters, sexual relationships, relationships between students and teachers. I based the novel on a shard of truth from my experience with a school bully in junior high school. The impact of that experience was long lasting and awful. I lost my trust of others. My grades dropped, as I cut class and skipped school. And for a time, I experimented with risky people. It took years for me to feel better and get back on track.

At the National Coalition Against Censorship blog, they mentioned that you had been told that your book seemed to “address the inner city“.  I think many people can see this as a thinly veiled racist dog whistle.  What was your reaction to this element of the administration’s response?

MM: It was actually a quote to a reporter who covered the story. Neither the superintendent nor the principal spoke to me at all. http://www.richmondmagazine.com/blogs.php?blogID=3fa19738ea6e1cb340bfc8ee7b35d280

But, in any case, it was a stunner coming from a school superintendent.

Even if she were trying to point out that the novel was set in Queens, New York, it would be a silly reason to dismiss a book. The idea that a reader has nothing to learn from characters that are in different circumstances is ridiculous.

As for the alarming overtones: Kids aren’t bullies because they’re Latino or because they live in a city. Kids who dress in Northface jackets and drive nice cars — or who live in Cumberland County — can be just as awful.

Have there been any updates on the situation in Virginia?  What has happened since the story has become more widely known?  How has it impacted you?

MM: Well, my Facebook and Twitter feeds exploded with much-appreciated support. This included a post from Judy Blume who has been fighting censorship for decades now.

I’ve received invitations to places as far away as Alaska – and I’ll be part of an anti-bullying community event in Washington, DC next month where I will definitely say the title of my book. Also, I’m proud to say that Richmond City Library, Main Branch, is starting a teen book club this coming spring. YAQUI DELGADO WANTS TO KICK YOUR ASS is one of their first titles on the list.

The biggest impact, though, has been on my willingness to speak up. As a rule, I’m not a person who seeks out conflict. However, I’m now past just shaking my head and quietly “working around” people who feel justified in censoring books for young people – mine or anyone else’s. Where does it end? When we only allow kids to read books that offend absolutely no one and that offer up nothing that makes them reflect on the uncomfortable realities of their lives?

One of the things I love about YAQUI DELGADO WANTS TO KICK YOUR ASS is how effectively you get across that bullying can start over seemingly nothing (Piddy doesn’t even know Yaqui) and then escalate into something that takes over the victim’s whole life.  Can you talk about the process of making the bullying feel so accurate intense? 

MM: Definitely, you can be bullied for the most ridiculous reason. In fact, bullying has very little to do with the victim. It’s mostly about power and about what the bully is trying to work out. The sad part, though, is that kids who get bullied often believe that there is something wrong with them, something that marks them as a loser. That’s where the hopelessness and shame begin.

When I drew Piddy as a character, I drew a normal kid with brains and average looks and people who loved her. She could be anybody. There’s nothing about Piddy that’s “wrong.”

Yaqui was tricky; you could write an entire novel about a girl like that, couldn’t you? But I wanted to tell Piddy’s story, not Yaqui’s. So, as I fleshed out Yaqui, I worked on revealing her only through Piddy’s experience and perceptions. Yaqui started out as a sentence, something that didn’t worry Piddy very much at all. But as each chapter unfolded and as Piddy’s self-confidence eroded, the idea of Yaqui seeped into every part of Piddy’s being until it was all consuming. That overpowering dread felt the most realistic to me.

What lessons about bullying do YOU want young readers, be they bullied, bullies, or bystanders, to take from this YAQUI DELGADO WANTS TO KICK YOUR ASS? What about the messages for adults who work with or are involved with teenagers?

MM: Researchers will tell you that the reasons for bullying are varied and complicated, and they may be right. But at the core, I think kids savage each other mostly because they want to ease their own insecurities, rage and despair – and because no one has stopped them from doing so.

I don’t know that I have lessons in mind, and I certainly don’t offer easy solutions. What I do have is a story that might help a reader feel less lonely and one that might open honest dialogue in a classroom, a library or at a kitchen table.

I wish adults would stop wringing their hands about the wrong things – like whether it’s okay to say, “ass” in front of 14 year olds. Conversations like that miss the point and cement adults’ reputation as being out of touch. What kids need and deserve is to feel respected – not just by their classmates, but also by teachers and school leaders who ought to have faith in young people’s ability to read, think, and decide.

I love your GIRLS OF SUMMER project as well as how all of your work apologetically concentrates strong female characters!  Why do you think this is so important in books for children and young adults? 

MM: Thanks. I love that project, too. Gigi Amateau and I pick 18 books for strong girls every year and then we spend the summer chatting with the authors of those books on our blog.  We include picture book all the way to YA to reflect the long and challenging journey of growing up a strong girl.

There are other fantastic lists (the Amelia Bloomer Prize, for one), but Girls of Summer reflects our personal favorites, the books we recommended to our own daughters and the newer titles we mention to the wonderful girls we meet every day. We’re picky about finding books about unconventional girls who choose their own path, girls who reflect on themselves and who learn to take charge of their fate.

Can you tell us a little about what you’re working on next?

MM: I have a picture book due out in 2015 called LORO MANGO (Candlewick Press).  And I’m just lifting off on a Young Adult manuscript for Candlewick Press. It’s also set in Queens, but this time we travel to 1977.  Oh, and heads up. I’m pretty sure someone will say “ass” in that one, too.

Thanks so much to Meg!  Not only did she agree to this interview, but Meg is giving away a signed paperback copy of her last YA novel The Girl Who Could Silence the Winda lovely, ethereal story about (you guessed it!) a strong girl finding her place in the world to one lucky reader.  And since I want to keep my pledge to stand up for Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by getting it in as many hands as possible, I’m giving away a copy of that!  

Want to be entered to win these awesome books?  Leave a comment on this blog and I’ll choose a random winner! And since the point of  these blogs is to share this story and Meg’s experience as widely as possible?  You can earn an extra entry by sharing this on Twitter or Facebook.  Just link to your share in your comment and you’ll be entered twice

Let’s honor the battles of Banned Books Week by STILL talking about this; by saying it was wrong and, as Meg points out, symptomatic of a larger problem teens face.  Let’s have faith.  And let’s fight for it.

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Rogue by Lyn Miller-Lachmann: a review and a GIVEAWAY!

Quick: how many books have you read where the main character has autism or autism spectrum disorder?

Now: how many of those books were written by an author who openly speaks about their own autism spectrum disorder?

For me, I realized that while I could come up with a few titles answering the former question, I couldn’t think of one answering the latter.  Then I was lucky enough to read the essay Lyn Miller-Lachmann wrote for Young Adult Review Network (YARN) talking about the origins of her book Rogue and her own experiences having Asperger’s Syndrome.  This is an amazing piece that helps really personalize what it feels like to have Asperger’s and looks at Miller-Lachmann’s decision to write a book featuring a character that also has this disorder.

rogueThat character is the unforgettable Kiara Thorton-Delgado, an eighth grader with Asperger’s who yearns for people to understand her and genuinely tries to connect with them. Rogue opens with Kiara determined that her new next door neighbor Chad, unlike all the other new kids who quickly reject her, will become and remain her friend.  But Chad is from a seriously troubled home, so her focus on becoming part of his world leads to more complicated situations that she originally bet on.  But Kiara is convinced this is her chance to have a friend and to belong.  Now, however, she’ll have to figure out what “being a friend” actually means and if she really is prepared for it.

This sounds like a trite premise, I know, but Miller-Lachmann takes the story to a thousand interesting and new places because of her deep understanding of Kiara.  Here’s the thing: I have just described to you a universal premise, a familiar story.  But when the character in this familiar story has Asperger’s, suddenly we are hearing a voice we have never heard before and seeing things we have not seen before.  It does not make this story less universal; instead, it turns Kiara’s struggles, complete with her Asperger’s, into something universal.  There’s something both epic and accessible about this, something that can’t be discounted.  This is why good writing about disability matters, this is why diversity in our characters counts – when the writing is as good as Miller-Lachmann’s is here it reminds us (and helps younger readers see) that characters with disability are part of universal stories too.

Kiara’s universal story is the heart and soul of Rogue.  Rogue wasn’t just a book I genuinely loved and enthusiastically recommend for advanced middle grade readers it was also a book I felt like (and this part is really important to me) I’d never read before.  It felt new, fresh, and challenging.

I adore the way Kiara learns to shine using her own set of strengths and abilities.  Kiara is often toting around a camera and filming things: she uses this as a way to cope with her Asperger’s but also discovers it can be a way to share her vision with people.  Rogue is the story of how Kiara tries to fit in and, more than that, it’s the story of how she figures out what “fitting in” really means and is really worth.  I love this.  I love that this is a story about finding “your people” by finding yourself and I love that this is also a story about accepting that “fitting in” might not be possible for everyone, not just because of disability, but because of their own personalities and beliefs.  This is BIG THOUGHT stuff for middle grade, which as most of you know, is the exact thing I think middle grade should be tackling.

Now for a bit about the title: Rogue, of course, has multiple meanings.  One of the main ones, however, is Kiara’s love for the superhero Rogue, a member of the X-Men.  Rogue, of course, is the mutant who cannot touch people because she saps their powers with contact.  Kiara finds real resonance in Rogue’s literal inability to connect and another thing I love about this book is that Miller-Lachmann takes this seriously.  I LOVE books that treat fandom as an important and maybe even life-saving element of people’s existence.  Yes – that’s what it can be like.  Not nerds, not haha how socially inept, but the joy of finding connection and recognition in a fictional world … Miller-Lachmann completely nails how that’s special, how that can mean so much.  Kiara knows it, knows the way she feels about Rogue, knows what it means to see herself in her.

Though Kiara is an eighth grader, Rogue is definitely on the higher end of middle-grade and actually acts as a good bridge read to young adult fiction.  I highly recommend it for grades 6-9  and particularly for readers who are drawn to stories of outsiders.  There are some really intense topics covered in the book (Kiara’s fractured family and, especially, Chad’s familial situation) and Miller-Lachmann is honest and frank about Kiara’s anger and her struggles, complete with setbacks and outbursts.  Kiara isn’t always the most likable character and yet you, as a reader, are still drawn to her.  You want to know more about her story and, well, you’re rooting for her.  You feel the universality in Kiara’s story and yet you know her personally.  That’s what makes her story fly and that’s what makes her story stick.

Thanks to Lyn Miller-Lachmann’s awesome kindness, you have a chance to win an autographed copy of Rogue! All you have to do is leave a comment on this post by Tuesday, July 2 and I’ll choose a random winner.  If you don’t win, Rogue is on sale now. If you can’t buy a copy, check one out from your local library.  If they don’t have it, request they add it to their collection.

(NOTE: I reviewed this title from an ARC Lyn sent me and I volunteered to host this giveaway on my site because I loved it so much.  A few years ago, I was lucky enough to meet Lyn at ALA at a super-cool YALSA event for small publishers.  She was there promoting her amazing book Gringolandia, which is STILL on my Best Books for High School Readers list.  Talk about an original, daring, and insightful young adult titles – Gringolandia is all that and more. If you haven’t read it, go get it right now!)

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