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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Banned Books Week: Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina

It all starts with a buzz that high school student Piddy shrugs off – “Yaqui Delgado wants to kick your ass!” She doesn’t even know Yaqui so why would she want to fight with Piddy?  It’s probably a case of mistaken identity or no big deal.  And, anyway, what’s the worst this total stranger could do?

This is the start of Meg Medina’s powerful Yaqui Delgado Wants To Kick Your Ass, one of my favorite YA books of 2013.  I’ve been in love with this book since it was first released back in March.  It’s received four starred reviews. I’ve booktalked it to my teens, featured it in my displays, and promoted it on our library’s teen Facebook page because I think it’s truly special.  Why?  Before anything else, what a delight to see a diverse cast of characters dealing with a universal story – this is always such a treat in YA.

Next is the way Medina structures the escalation of bullying.  Rarely, if ever, have I read a book that so accurately portrays the intensity and the slow build and burn of high school bullying.  I want to pull my hair out when I read stories about teenagers who are bullied and see school administration responding with “Well, but does it happen on campus?”  As if the insidiousness of bullying doesn’t follow teens; sink into every moment of their life, as if saying that gets administrators off the hook for not helping teens. Yaqui Delgado Wants To Kick Your Ass is flat-out brilliant at showing how bullying isn’t the kind of thing teenagers can just walk away from, even when they try.  Medina knows that bullying is a campaign of harassment that builds and builds – that’s what happens to Piddy.  She thinks things with Yaqui are silly or, at least, can be ignored.  But they can’t – Yaqui isn’t going away, if anything she is escalating her behavior against Piddy.

This escalation, and this understanding of bullying behavior, gives Yaqui Delgado Wants To Kick Your Ass not just a claustrophobic sense of reality but also makes it a page-turner.  As Piddy looks for a way out, Medina uses this as a way to let us into Piddy’s whole world; her interactions with her mother, her burgeoning relationship with a boy, and the way this bullying blows apart her well-ordered life. You’re rooting for Piddy but you, like her, are also not sure what the “right” solution is.  Again, what a beautiful lifeline in literature Medina has created here: she doesn’t lie to the young readers of this book, she doesn’t make it seem as simple as “Piddy should just tell!” That would only be the beginning of a whole new set of problems – Piddy knows that and so will teens.  Understanding this, unraveling this pain, is more than that and this book doesn’t shy away from that truth.  It’s what makes it work and it’s what makes it unique.

This is a very good book, a special book, and, yes, in some spots a very hard book to read.  But it’s also the kind of book I think can matter in teen’s lives – help them actually see the shockwaves of bullying, help them know they aren’t the only person who has felt their whole life spin out over something they can’t control, maybe even help them feel not just a little empathy but a little less alone in a dark time.

Yaqui_frontcoverfull (1)

This is also a book that, you may notice, has the word ASS in the title.  Which, ostensibly, is what got Meg Medina uninvited from speaking at a middle school in Virginia.  I say ostensibly because, while I am sure the word ASS was part of it?  I also know that it was something deeper – it was the way books like Yaqui Delgado Wants To Kick Your Ass make adults uncomfortable – the way it makes them confront the dark realities of life as an adolescent.  Those are scary things for adults to have to face and those are the kind of things that pull books off shelves and out of children’s hands.

It’s words like ass and it’s worlds where girls you don’t even know can determine to make your life a living nightmare while adults in your world stand powerless that make books disappear from public and school library shelves. A challenge here, an uninvited author there, a concerned parent with a letter to a principal, a board – these things not just erode the intellectual freedom of children and teens but take something life-saving, life-changing from them – books, stories, words, a hand in the dark.

THIS is why we, librarians, educators, teachers, writers, fight challenges and raise awareness about them.  It’s why we want to get people talking about them and being outraged about them and fighting them.  That’s why we have BANNED BOOKS WEEK.

We do not, make no mistake, celebrate Banned Books Week.  Throw that out the window.  We celebrate a commitment to defending intellectual freedom, we celebrate the fight, we celebrate everyone who does not go quietly.  We do this because we want you, the general public, we want you to know this is happening all over this country and it MATTERS.

I wanted to boost the signal on what happened to Meg Medina and what it reveals to us about how easily books are pulled away from the very readers who might need them the most.  I wanted this year’s Banned Books Week to be a time for all of us, from those of us active in this field to the friends you have on Facebook who shared that video of the cat librarian in Russia, to let people know that challenges like this are happening all across this country and we do not agree and we will not be silent.

This Banned Books Week: Stand up for Yaqui Delgado.  

How?

Take this pledge with me:

We will talk about challenges, about climates that discourage intellectual freedom.  We will share it.  We will be outraged about it, we will encourage others to be outraged about it.  We will tell the story of how books matter, about what they can do for teens. Moreover: we will tell teens about these books. We will BUY THE BOOKS.  We will ask the libraries in our communities, the public libraries and the school libraries, to BUY THE BOOKS for our communities. We will not let all the readers who see their story in Piddy’s story be silenced and made invisible.  We will insist their voices count.

To further boost the signal, I also reached out to Meg to see if she would do an interview with me about what happened and what she’s learned from it.  She graciously agreed and then gave me some amazing, insightful answers.  Tomorrow, to continue this campaign to stand up for Yaqui, I will not only post the interview, but everyone who comments will have a chance to win a hardcover copy of Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass AND a signed copy of Meg’s novel The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind.

Let’s boost the signal.  Let’s raise our voices.

Let’s kick some ass.

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Mistwood by Leah Cypess

A few housekeeping notes.  For reasons you might expect, comments are now moderated.  Don’t despair if you don’t see your comment immediately appear, I’m getting to it right away.  And a big, heartfelt thanks to everyone who has recently encouraged and supported me and, more specifically, this blog.  It meant more than you probably know.

Next: I have a few YA book reviews to write about books that don’t directly relate to fat acceptance and body image but that I must write about, my love is so great.  HOWEVER, I also have an upcoming detailed review and critique of Sasha Paley’s Huge (like that awesome new cover with a big NO sign through the S’mores?  NO S’MORES FOR YOU, FAT-ASS!) which is the basis for the ABC Family Show Huge.  I haven’t seen the show yet (it’s on my summer to-watch list, I swear) but I’ve heard good things about it.  I hope it’s enjoyable and positive, which would make it much different than the book.  Here’s a sample of the closing lines of the book, wherein one of the fatties is fat no more and so, so happy!

“nothing — that Hershey’s Kiss included — was as sweet as being a brand-new skinny April.”

How sweet it is indeed! That’s all coming, stay tuned.  In the meantime, here’s a review of one of my favorite books of the year…

He grinned then, his dark eyes gleaming, and she lost any hope of turning and running before it was too late.  It was already too late.  Something about that wide, unrestrained smile. . .

If you were to ask me what my favorite “kind” of book is, (which is what a teenager would most commonly say) what my favorite “genre” was, (a more adult way of phrasing it, perhaps) I would be one of those infuriating people who says, “Oh, I like them all!”  But this would be true.  I honestly can’t think of a genre I won’t try: mysteries, horror, romance, realistic, non-fiction, graphic novels, and on and on and on.  More than that: I can’t think of a single genre I don’t have at least one beloved book in.  There’s really no scale in my mind: literary fiction down to bodice-rippers, I love ’em all.  I’m not one of those people who says things like “I’m a big fantasy fan!” or “I hate paranormal books.”  I don’t actually think of it that way, I guess.  I am genre-venturous, let’s say.

Why am I starting my review of Mistwood off this way?  I guess because when I read it, every twist, every turn, every richly detailed plot point sunk me farther and farther into another book.  It was a hundred genres, a thousand stories, a million possibilities, each opening up on each other.  As I was falling into the romance, the fantasy, the mystery, the period detail, the coming of age story, all of these genres, all of these stories, in Leah Cypess’s beautiful book it occurred to me: these kind of books are my favorites.

Mistwood is the story of The Shifter, a magical creature who lives in the Mistwood and has one duty: to protect the kings of Samorna. The Shifter has been called to serve the crown prince Rokan, but when she awakes in the castle in the form of a girl named Isabel she finds holes in her memory.  Why had she returned to Mistwood?  Why has she been called back to court now?  What loyalty does she now owe Samorna and Rokan?  Who, exactly, is she?

What I Love About This Book

And you know?  I can just bet that first sentence made everyone reading this who says Eh, fantasy, not really my thing. tune out and think of puppies.

But wait!  Mistwood is so much more than that.  As Isabel starts trying to figure out her past, it’s a puzzlebox mystery that is expertly plotted.  When Isabel starts to consider the implications and costs of being The Shifter, it’s an aching coming of age story.  As Isabel tries to navigate the dangerous intricacies of court life, it’s a political thriller.  Sometimes, it’s even a romance of equals (my favorite) a romance of possibilities, passion, loyalty, and humor.  (but to tell more about that would be to spoil the pleasure of watching it evolve in the text!)

And I can’t really spoil or spell out any more of the plot, because so much of the pleasure of Mistwood is simply experiencing it: sinking into the entirely real and entirely foreign universe.  Like The Shifter, we are instantly caught up, unable to turn away.  Cypess’s writing is rich with detail and very precise.  It manages to be evocative but also clear, there’s no purple prose here, even when the narrative is in dramatic overdrive.

I was instantly drawn to Isabel, because for all the magic and intrigue and world-building, her story is the quintessential YA lit story.  What’s the quintessential YA lit story?  It’s about figuring out who you are, not just who everyone tells you that you are.  It’s about learning that being an adult means making tough choices that sometimes suck, that it means leaving behind easy moral universes for more complicated ones, with less “right” answers, but greater personal rewards.  Mistwood is all that, with an awesome side of magic, spells, and shape-shifting thrown in just as a bonus.

Recommended for: Fans of Kristin Cashore’s Graceling and Julia Golding’s Dragonfly, readers looking for a more nuanced and complicated fantasy narrative.  I’ve read some reviews that mention that girls will be more drawn to this, but I don’t think that’s exactly true:  the mystery, the intrigues of court life, action and chases – I think this has good cross-gender appeal.  And the romance?  Well, boys like that too, ya know, especially when it’s one as rich and rewarding as the one here.  This book will earn a wide audience and it deserves it.

Why don’t you go into your local library and check out Mistwood today?  If they don’t have a copy, request they buy one.

Visit Leah Cypess’s website for more information, including purchasing information.  The best news: she’s working on a companion novel to be released in 2011.  Awwwww, yeah!

(I might die if I don’t get an ARC of it at Midwinter…I had such a long, exciting conversation about the book with the Greenwillow/HarperCollins reps at their booth during Annual I missed out on loading up on any Harper ARCs … but it was worth it!)

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