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Another Wonderful Story about My Awesome Dad
By Melissa de la Cruz
I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to write about in the topic “Stories for All” and advocating the end of gender-based book assignments. There are no “girl” books and no “boy” books, but I didn’t know what to say other than that, which seemed obvious.
So I decided to write about my dad. My friends always tell me that my stories about my dad, who passed away almost seven years ago, are my best stories, so I will tell one of those.
When I was growing up, I never thought of myself primarily as someone who was defined first by my gender. I mean, I knew I was a girl, I knew girls and boys were “different”, blah blah blah. But mostly, I grew up thinking of myself as a person first. Like, what did I like to do? What did I like to read? I wasn’t fond of sports and I ate whatever I wanted without feeling guilty or weird about it, I cracked jokes, I was clumsy, I was goofy, I read a lot of books, and my parents bought me any book I wanted to read.
I read Jack London and Hardy Boys and Kipling and Roald Dahl and I read Little Women and Nancy Drew and Anne of Green Gables. I did notice that while I read both Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys, some of my friends who were boys only read Hardy Boys. Even back then, at nine years old, I thought that was a shame.
Okay? So what is the Pop story? I’m getting to it. When my sister and I were both students at our fancy Ivy League colleges, I overhead my dad talking to a bunch of his friends during dinner. They were all Filipino men in their 50s and 60s, with children the same age as me and my sis. “How did you do it?” They asked my dad. “How did you raise such accomplished girls?”
My dad loved being famous for being a Great Dad. It was one of his proudest achievements and he loved giving people advice on how to raise their children. He told his friends, “I didn’t raise ‘girls’. I raised people. Accomplished people. There’s no difference. Why would I raise my girls any different from how I’m raising my son?” (In our family we would say the only difference is that our little brother was the most spoiled. Heh.)
Gender mattered very little to my parents, their opinions on the difference between men and women mostly rested around the iron clad belief that husbands should always take out the trash and fill up the family car. (I never saw my mom fill the tank once when my dad was alive.) They believed in manners and chivalry and equal pay for equal work, and that even if the wife was the breadwinner, it didn’t mean it was emasculating for the husband.
My dad would be insulted when provincial relatives would admire him for investing in our educations, that it was somehow special, and he would bristle at the notion that girls didn’t deserve the same expectations asked of boys, that girls “weren’t worth it” or somehow, subtly, lesser.
The practice of separating books by gender is part of this subtle communication to our girls that their stories don’t matter as much as boys’ stories do, and that boys should have no interest in learning about girls. So um, let’s stop doing that.
My dad knew his kids—his daughters and son weren’t perfect, and our family had our own issues. But looking back, I am amazed at how embarrassingly functional my family was. My parents were happily married and we children were loved and felt safe. We were allowed to be whoever we were, and our genders were the least important thing about us. And we were allowed to read whatever we wanted. No boy books. No girl books. Just books, and lots of them.
Melissa de la Cruz is the #1 New York Times best-selling author of many critically acclaimed and award-winning novels for teens and adults, including The Au Pairs series, the Blue Bloods series, the Witches of East End series, and the Descendants novel, Isle of the Lost. Melissa grew up in Manila and San Francisco and currently lives with her husband and daughter in Los Angeles and Palm Springs.
I’ll admit, I’m quite proud of the paperback design of my book. My publishers did a fantastic job. I believe the color scheme is really fun, the description is intriguing, and my name is in a funky font that I wish I could use all the time.
But my name is Maya.
And my book is pink.
And for these stupid, irrelevant reasons, boys get teased for carrying Popular around at school. They hide it under their desks or have their sisters check it out for them at the library. My own brother read it at night so his classmates wouldn’t see him with it. This seems to be a recurring theme.
When Popular came out in the UK, I traveled to London for a three-day publicity tour. I was asked to be on BBC Channel Four news. At the last minute they brought in a well-known journalist to discuss her take on my book after only skimming the synopsis. Her only complaint was that there should be a self-help book directed toward young boys and not just girls. I was fifteen at the time, and terrified to be on television, so I stammered some response about how I hoped my book had messages for everyone who wanted to read it.
It was only after the cameras stopped rolling that I really thought about what she’d said. And I wished I’d given a different response. I wished I would’ve asked her why.
Why does there have to be an entirely different book devoted to boys when a lot of the advice I gave was convertible if not universal for both genders? Why can’t a boy read a book written by and about a girl when all my childhood I read books written by and about boys? Oliver Twist and The Hobbit weren’t overflowing with female characters, but that didn’t mean I didn’t fall in love with the stories, learn from the male protagonists, enjoy the adventures. Why can’t boys feel confident picking up copies of Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret? by Judy Blume or Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson? If girls can learn things from these books surely boys could too, right? And vice versa! Why is it that there are whole articles devoted to listing “Best Boy Books” and “Best Girl Books” instead of just “Best Books”? Girls can love Lord of the Flies. Boys can be obsessed with Nancy Drew. Why is it such a big deal?
And maybe it’s good that I didn’t say all of this in the television segment, because unfortunately I don’t think there’s an easy answer to any of if, at least nothing that could be resolved in my allotted three minutes. The upsetting thing is that it’s a conundrum with an incredibly simple solution. Let people read what they want to read. That’s it.
But then again, I was blessed with great parents and open-minded librarians who never told me “That book is not for you” and handed me something “more appropriate for a girl.” So I never felt limited in my literary options. I could read stories about princesses or monsters or both! And I loved every second of it. But unfortunately that isn’t the case for every kid.
So for all the girls whose backpacks are full of sports novels and scouting adventures, for all the boys who read Popular and any book with pink on the cover, don’t let anyone convince you that what you want to read wasn’t written for you. Because as an author, I can tell you that we write for whoever pulls that book off the shelf. And young or old, girl or boy, we’ll always be happy you enjoyed it. Promise.
Maya Van Wagenen is seventeen years old. At age 15 she published Popular, her New York Times bestselling memoir of her 8th grade year. Maya was named one of Time Magazines most influential teenagers. She currently lives with her parents and two siblings in rural Georgia.
Suzanna Hermans, co-owner of Oblong Books & Music in Rhinebeck, NY, shares her thoughts on #StoriesForAll!
Customer: "Hi, I'm looking for a book for a 3rd grade girl."
Bookseller: "Sure! Has she read the Humphrey series by Betty Birney? It's about a classroom hamster who has lots of adventures and gets to go home with a different student every weekend."
Customer: "Um, no. That's a boy book."
Bookseller: "Well, the hamster is a boy, but the kids in the classroom are a mix of boys and girls."
Customer: "No, I want a girl book. How about this book about fairy unicorns?"
This happens ALL THE TIME in our bookstore. Last week, one of our booksellers had a customer turn down a board book about an owl because obviously owls are only in boy books.
As booksellers, we want our customers to go home with the perfect book for their child, but we also feel a responsibility to expand kids' minds and expose them to stories about a broad range of experiences. The books you read as a kid help shape who you will be as an adult. How can you become an empathetic, well-rounded person when you've only read about people just like you?
We make a concerted effort to stock books for all readers across the gender spectrum and strongly believe there is no such thing as a "boy" or "girl" book. Unfortunately, there are times when it's not that simple.
There is definitely more pushback when trying to sell a book with a girl protagonist to a parent of a boy than vice versa. Actually, many boys are happy to read books about girls, but their parents can be hesitant to buy these books for them. I try to find creative ways to handsell "girl books" to the parents of boys. Instead of describing the book as being about a "girl," I will say it's about a "kid." I'm sure my gender neutral word doesn't fool them once they've picked up the book, but it does seem to have some subliminal impact.
Handselling YA books is harder, because so often their covers look intensely feminine or masculine, which can really impact the appeal to certain readers. I do see this getting slightly better as I am buying publishers' 2016 lists - there seems to be a shift toward covers that are more about typeface and bold design choices and less about girls in big ballgowns.
Of course there are books that transcend the gender of their characters to become massively popular among kids of all stripes (thank you, Rick Riordan, Raina Telgemeier, & Marie Lu!) but these are the exceptions, not the rules. Luckily these books act as touchstones for parents, and can be used to persuade them to buy something outside their comfort zone. Oh, your son loves Percy Jackson? Has he read the Pegasus series?
Progress is slowly being made, and in the meantime I'll just keep selling El Deafo to every 11-year-old kid who walks through our doors, regardless of their gender. Just you try and stop me.
Suzanna Hermans is a second generation bookseller and co-owner of Oblong Books & Music in Millerton & Rhinebeck, NY. She was recently completed her term as President of the New England Independent Booksellers Association, and serves on the Advisory Council of American Booksellers for Free Expression. Follow her on Twitter: @oblongirl.
The Cult of Judy
By Varian Johnson
When I was a kid, I was a stereotypical nerd. I loved Star Trek, I was great at math, I had no athletic skills whatsoever, and I broke out into a cold sweat any time I tried to talk to a girl.
I got picked on a lot. Sometimes I was called a nerd or a geek, which wasn’t so bad. Sometimes I was called a sissy or accused of being girly, which I didn’t like at all. Other times, I was called things much, much, much worse.
I did what I could to blend in. I surrounded myself with a handful of close friends. I tried harder at sports (and failed). I laughed at whatever lame jokes the cool kids shared with the class. And I stopped bringing library books to school.
I loved to read. I loved books even more than Star Trek. Some of my favorite novels included The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper, Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar, and Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls.
But favorite author, by far, was Judy Blume.
I read every Judy Blume book I could get my hands on. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. Deenie. Tiger Eyes. And of course, Forever.
Clearly, as an already ostracized kid, there was no way I was bringing a Judy Blume book to school. And I wasn’t just afraid of what the kids would say. I didn’t want my teachers to know what I was reading. I didn’t want them singling me out in class, telling me to put down my “girl” book for something else. Because if the kids were saying it and the adults were saying it, then maybe there really was something wrong with me…
So I stopped taking books to school.
But when I was at home, I could freely read whatever I wanted. My mother, bless her heart, never batted an eye at any of my book choices. She just wanted me to read good books. And novels by Judy Blume were some of the best.
Sometimes I wonder what type of author I would have become if I hadn’t read Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret or Iggie’s House. I wonder what type of person I would have become if ten-year-old me hadn’t read about Margaret’s conversations with God, or Winnie’s interaction with the African-American family that moved into Iggie’s house. These books are not just for girls. These books are for readers, period. These are the books that shaped a generation, and I’m so glad to have experienced them when I needed them most.
I have my own family now. My girls aren’t even old enough for elementary school, but their shelves are filled with books. When they’re ready, I can’t wait for them to discover Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, The Princess in Black, When You Reach Me, One Crazy Summer, and Holes.
(And yes, even Forever.)
Because my girls deserve the right to read what they want to read without judgment or bias. They, like all readers, deserve stories for all.
Varian Johnson is the author of four novels, including award-winning and highly-acclaimed The Great Greene Heist and My Life as a Rhombus. Besides being a writer, he's a civil engineer, and with his wife, a parent to two young girls. Born in South Carolina, he lives outside Austin, Texas.
I am excited to be a guest blogger and share a fantastic experience we had in our library. After hearing Shannon speak at UELMA last spring about a mother gathering autographed books for her daughters and then asking her son if he wanted a “girl book” signed for him, the gears in my brain went to work. As a librarian, how could I change that perspective with my students? And so the Boy/Girl Book challenge was created.
To start my lesson, I talked about reading books and magazines that my kids, who are young adults now, read so I can find out more about what they like and then we can have great conversations about those topics and I get to know them better. I, in turn, share articles and books with them, and they get to know me better. It might be car magazines, outdoor adventures, travel books, cookbooks, or just some great fiction. It’s a great way to understand people better.
Then I told them I wanted to share two great books with them. I gave a short, but very descriptive, summary of “Island of the Blue Dolphin” by Scott O’Dell and “Ghost Hawk” by Susan Cooper, but I kept gender out of the description all together. I also wrapped the books to hide their covers. I chose these books because I felt they had several things in common. They are stories with history, Native American ties, struggle, and survival. They both have a beautiful sense of tragedy and heroism. I did point out that one was written by a woman and one by a man, but didn’t tell them which.
After my descriptions, I started asking questions to see if they had listened and which book sounded interesting to them. I asked what they noticed about the two books that was similar, and what was different. Then I asked, by raise of hands, which one would they read and maybe it would be both.
I then left that point of my lesson, and shared the experience that Shannon had shared with us that I mentioned earlier. Their reactions were wonderful and exactly what I was hoping for. They were dismayed, outraged, and had lots to say on the subject. I let them express their feelings for about a minute and then began the challenge.
I uncovered the books and reminded them about each story, but this time, letting them know which one was about a girl and which was about a boy. I pointed out that the author of Ghost Hawk was a woman and a man had written the other. I asked if they thought that authors wrote books for only boys to read or only for girls, or did they write books for people to read. By now some of the students began to catch on, and there were some groans and rolling of eyes, but we pressed on!
I then challenged the girls to check out what they would consider to be a “boy book” and the boys to check out a “girl book”. More moans and groans! Then I used their words of dismay, outrage, and other thoughts against them! They quickly surrendered because they knew their protests would be lost on me! Then I turned them loose on the library and watched amazing things unfold! Boys were recommending books to girls. Girls were recommending books to boys. In some cases I heard, “Well if I read this book, you have to read one I give you!” but, they were listening to descriptions from each other and taking their advice!! It was GREAT!
I did a follow up “Book Talk” two weeks later, so the kids could share what they were reading and what they had learned. In most cases, they had discovered that they could read anything they wanted to in the library and were learning about different perspectives. It was twenty marvelous minutes of students teaching students! I did give all of the students who participated a book mark to thank them, but I didn’t tell them at the start they would earn a reward for participation. That was a surprise.
Two interesting things I observed through this little experiment. One: this was certainly not mandatory, and a few of my cool boys resisted at first, but when they saw how many others were participating, they slowly began to get involved. They really got interested after they heard students sharing what they had read during Book Talk and asked if it was too late to be part of it.
Second: I had two boys whose parents told them to return their books because they didn’t want them reading girl books. One father was concerned that the pink book about dragons and princesses wasn’t something his son should read. The boys came to me, still wanting to participate, but couldn’t have the books they had checked out. I told them they could check them in or maybe there was something they could come up with to solve the problem. One boy went back home and explained everything again to the parents. His book still had to be turned in. The other kept his book at school and finished it.
I did this experience with my third through sixth graders and it got such great response that a couple of months later, I did something similar, but this time profiling our “ugly books”. They loved this one too!
The first week back in library this year, the first question that was asked in every class was, “Are we going to do the challenges again this year?” I am happy to report that it is now trendy to read “girl books” and “boy books” because the books in our library are for EVERYONE to enjoy!
Thanks for this opportunity, Shannon! I would love to share ideas and get feedback from all you fabulous librarians out there.
Margaret Millward email@example.com
Margaret Millward has been the librarian at West Bountiful Elementary for six years. She is the mother of three fabulous young adults and has two (almost three) adorable grandchildren. and a very patient husband. She is passionate about all things creative and educational and combines the two whenever possible to get kids thinking deeper and outside the box.
EDIT: Shannon Hale here. I adore Margaret’s experiment and I hope many more librarians and teachers feel inspired to try it in their classrooms and libraries. A note on the books cited here (Island of the Blue Dolphins and Ghost Hawk): noted Native scholar Debbie Reese writes in the comments below, “Both misrepresent Native peoples and cultures, and we need not do that, right?“
Her thoughts on Island of the Blue Dolphins:
Other librarians have suggested books like Louise Erdrich’s BIRCHBARK HOUSE and Tim Tingle’s HOW I BECAME A GHOST instead.
A school librarian introduces me before I give an assembly. "Girls, you're in for a real treat. You will love Shannon Hale's books. Boys, I expect you to behave anyway."
I'm being interviewed for a newspaper article/blog post/pod cast, etc. They ask, "I'm sure you've heard about the crisis in boys' reading. Boys just aren't reading as much as girls are. So why don't you write books for boys?"
Or, "Why do you write strong female characters?" (and never asked "Why do you write strong male characters?")
At book signings, a mother or grandmother says, "I would buy your books for my kids but I only have boys."
Or, "My son reads your books too—and he actually likes them!"
Or, a dad says, "No, James, let's get something else for you. Those are girl books."
A book festival committee member tells me, "I pitched your name for the keynote but the rest of the committee said 'what about the boys?' so we chose a male author instead."
A mom has me sign some of my books for each of her daughters. Her 10-year-old son lurks in the back. She has extra books that are unsigned so I ask the boy, “Would you like me to sign one to you?” The mom says, “Yeah, Isaac, do you want her to put your name in a girl book?” and the sisters all giggle. Unsurprisingly, Isaac says no.
These sorts of scenarios haven't happened just once. They have been my norm for the past twelve years. I've heard these and many more like them countless times in every state I've visited.
In our culture, there are widespread assumptions:
1. Boys aren't going to like a book that stars a girl. (And so definitely won't like a book that stars a girl + is written by a woman + is about a PRINCESS, the most girlie of girls).
2. Men's stories are universal; women's stories are only for girls.
But the truth is that none of that is truth. In my position, not only have I witnessed hundreds examples of adults teaching boys to be ashamed of and avoid girls' stories, I've also witnessed that boys can and do love stories about girls just as much as about boys, if we let them. For example, I've heard this same thing over and over again from teachers who taught Princess Academy: "When I told the class we were going to read PRINCESS ACADEMY the girls went 'Yay!' and the boys went 'Boo!' But after we'd read it the boys liked it as much or even more than the girls."
Most four-year-old boys will read THE PRINCESS IN BLACK without a worry in the world. Most fourth grade boys won't touch PRINCESS ACADEMY—at least if others are watching. There are exceptions, of course. I've noticed that boys who are homeschooled are generally immune. My public-school-attending 11-year-old son's favorite author is Lisa McMann. He's currently enjoying Kekla Magoon's female-led SHADOWS OF SHERWOOD as much as he enjoyed the last book he read: Louis Sachar's boy-heavy HOLES. But generally in the early elementary years, boys learn to be ashamed to show interest in anything to do with girls. We've made them ashamed.
I want to be clear; if there's a boy who only ever wants to read about other boys, I think that's fine. But I've learned that most kids are less interested in the gender of the main character and more interested in the kind of book—action, humor, fantasy, mystery, etc. In adults' well-meant and honest desire to help boys find books they'll love, we often only offer them books about boys. We don't give them a chance.
Whenever I speak up about this, I am accused of trolling for boy readers when they aren't my "due." So let me also be clear: I have a wonderful career. I have amazing readers. I am speaking up not because I'm disgruntled or demand that more boys read my books but because my particular career has put me in a position to observe the gender bias that so many of us have inherited from the previous generations and often unknowingly lug around. I've been witnessing and cataloging widespread gender bias and sexism for over a decade. How could I face my kids if I didn't speak up?
And here's what I've witnessed: "great books for boys" lists, books chosen for read alouds, and assigned reading in high schools and colleges, etc. are overwhelmingly about boys and written by men. Peers (and often adults) mock and shame boys who do read books about girls. Even informed adults tend to qualify recommendations that boys hear very clearly. "Even though this stars a girl, boys will like it too!"
This leads to generations of boys denied the opportunity of learning a profound empathy for girls that can come from reading novels. Leads to a culture where boys feel perfectly fine mocking and booing things many girls like and adults don't even correct them because "boys will be boys." Leads to boys and girls believing "girlie" is the gravest insult, that girls are less significant, not worth your time. Leads to girls believing they must work/learn/live "like a man" in order to be successful. Leads to boys growing into men who believe women are there to support their story, expect them to satisfy men's desires and have none of their own.
The more I talk about this topic, the more I'm amazed at how many people haven't really thought about it or considered the widespread effect gendered reading causes. I was overwhelmed by the response to a blog post I wrote earlier this year. To carry on this conversation, I'm working with Bloomsbury Children's Books to create #StoriesForAll. Each day this week we'll feature new essays on this topic from authors, parents, teachers, librarians, booksellers, and readers. On twitter, instagram, and tumblr, join us with the #StoriesForAll hashtag to share experiences, photos, book recommendations. Discuss: How deep is the assumption that there are boy books and girl books? Does it matter? What have you witnessed with regards to gendered reading? What damage does gendered reading cause to both girls and boys? What can each of us do to undo the damage and start making a change?
I yearn for that change. For our girls and for our boys.
Shannon Hale is the New York Times bestselling author of over 20 books, including the Ever After High trilogy and the Newbery Honor winner Princess Academy. She co-wrote The Princess in Black series and Rapunzel's Revenge with her husband, author Dean Hale. They have four children.
In 2004 I started writing a book that would become BOOK OF A THOUSAND DAYS. For some time I'd wanted to reimagine the Grimms Brothers fairy tale "Maid Maleen" but had every intention of creating a fantasy world like others I'd written before: inspired by a kind of old Northern Europe, like the lands of the fairy tales I adapted and that of my ancestors. I was afraid of cultural appropriation, careful not to march into someone else's culture and try to colonize it with my own stories. While I loved reading books that weren't all just white people, I felt that, as a white person, it wasn't my place to tell stories that took advantage of other cultures. I would stick to places and cultures to which I had a direct inheritance.
But when I was working on BOOK OF A THOUSAND DAYS, my parents moved to Mongolia for two years. As I researched the land and the history, the story I'd begun and the Mongolian landscape and history slid together so perfectly, I couldn't bear not to let the story be what it wanted to be. I got over my fear, tried to come from an open place of love and respect, and wrote the story.
The original cover was a photograph of a headless girl (as was all the rage in those years--Female Torsos 4EVAH) so you couldn't see from the jacket that the main character (and all the characters in the book) looked like Mongolians of our world. But the book is filled with illustrations. While this book never hit any best seller list, it did well and received some lovely recognition from awards, state lists, and reviews.
When it went to paperback, my publisher gave it a new jacket. My publisher was great about this. They sought out a Mongolian-American model for the shoot and did a really lovely job, I thought. I've always been more of a fan of paintings than photograph covers, but I was happy with this one.
Given the decent release the hardcover had had, everyone expected the paperback to make a big splash. It did pretty well, but nothing like the expectation. Looking over royalty statements years later, all of my paperbacks have outsold their hardcovers (usually doubled or more) except for this one. The only one with a person of color on the cover.
When I did book signings where the store would have stacks of books on the table before me, I'd notice that the photograph covers with white girls would significantly dip down or disappear, but this beautiful book's stack remained tall. When people shopped by cover, they passed this one over.
When I visited schools, school librarians who told me they had large Asian populations in their student body said they wanted the paperback specifically. They knew representation matters. That those students who were of Asian descent would be happy to see someone who looked somewhat like them on a cover, leading a story of her own.
But with that assumption also came the other side. That schools with large white populations in their student body wouldn't be interested in the book. That stories about someone who looks Asian isn't for everyone (i.e. white people). It's niche.
I was sorry for this. I feel that this book is my best work. I felt really honored that I got to tell Dashti's story. But at that time, I never considered that my experience was considerably different than it would have been if I'd been an Asian author. A Mongolian-inspired fantasy book written by a white woman is still much more likely to be accepted and read by white readers (who make up 75% of the US) than an Asian author writing the same.
This should have been a logical conclusion for me. I certainly had first hand knowledge with how we tend to honor the stories of men over women. That men's stories are universal and women's stories are niche. A man can write an important work of art that involves relationships. The same book by a woman would be condescendingly called "chick lit" and recommended only to other women. This is a reality that I've seen over and over and over again.
But I don't have first hand knowledge about the experiences of a person of color. While I was worried that it wasn't my place to write about another culture and I hesitated to offend or get it wrong in the writing, I didn't think about the after publication part. How as a white woman the path would be largely paved for me. I believe that white readers would have been more likely to purchase this book if instead of a Mongolian-American on the cover there had been a skinny white model in a ballgown. But those same white readers were more likely to purchase a book with a Mongolian-American model on the cover written by a white author than one written by an Asian author.
The same way adults are more likely to give a boy a book about a girl if it was written by a man than if it was written by a woman.
Books can and should be both mirrors and windows. Both are precious experiences. If we're only reading books written by those of our own experience, race, religion, gender, we're missing so much of the world.
I hope we're getting over this often-unconscious biases. But in the meantime, allow me to recommend some wonderful books by Asian-American authors in a by-no-means comprehensive list. And please add your own recommendations. I'm sure I'm forgetting so many of my favorites and there are so many I don't know yet!
For young readers:
Ling and Ting books by Grace Lin
Alvin Ho books by Lenore Look, illustrated by LeUyen Pham
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park
Stanford Wong Flunks Big Time by Lisa Yee
Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata
In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Bao Lord
Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities by Mike Jung
Serpentine by Cindy Pon
Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
Prophecy by Ellen Oh
Does My Head Look Big in This by by Randa Abdel-Fattah
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford (technically for adults but with a dual young/old narrator)
Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi
This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki
I'm finding it difficult to keep up with blogging as well as writing and mothering. I'm pretty active on twitter. And I post semi-regularly on Facebook and tumblr. And I will continue post here as well, but not weekly.
My upcoming events!
Saturday Sept. 26 - Salt Lake Comic Con
Saturday Oct. 10, 10am - Girls Books, Boys Books, and Just Good Books: A Conversation on Gender and Young Adult Literature Featuring Valynne Maetani, Shannon Hale, Matthew Kirby and Ann Cannon. Viridian Event Center, West Jordan, Utah
Tuesday, Oct 13, 7pm - joining Margaret Stohl to launch her new book BLACK WIDOW: FOREVER RED at the Viridian Event Center, West Jordan, UT. This is also the release day for THE PRINCESS IN BLACK AND THE PERFECT PRINCESS PARTY (PIB #2) so I can sign those for you that night.
Thursday, Oct 15 - The launch party for THE PRINCESS IN BLACK AND THE PERFECT PRINCESS PARTY at The King's English, 1500 So. 1500 Ea. Salt Lake City, UT, with Dean Hale
Oct 18-20 - Events in San Francisco for the launch of the 2nd PRINCESS IN BLACK, with Dean Hale and LeUyen Pham
Nov 6-7 - AASL conference and a public bookstore event in Ohio, details TBA
I did about 25 assemblies at schools this past year. Add that to a previous 200-300 assemblies and you could say I've about seen it all. One visit I was picked up at the train station in a limo, treated to a lunch with a class of kids that had read my books and had an amazing discussion with them. One visit (many many visits) I've been thrown at the kids without their having any idea whatsoever who I was or why I was there and consequently not caring much either. [NOTE: You do NOT need to pick up the author in a limo! But the kids do notice if the author event is a big deal to the adult organizers. Any preparation and excitement lets them know this is important and amazing and they care about it more too.]
The visits and the travel have taken a significant toll on my writing and family time so I'm taking as much of a break as possible for the next two years. But I wanted to write down some things I've learned that may be helpful for school administrations, teachers, librarians, and parent organizations who organize author visits. For more info, here's a similar post I did a few years ago.
Tips for a great school visit:
Involve the librarian. If the visit is set up and hosted by the PTA, PTO, etc., it's still vital to involve the librarian. (and if the librarian organizes the event, involve the PTO!) Then the librarian involves the teachers. And all the school preps for this assembly. If the librarian is involved and the kids are prepped, the visit goes 100x better. Honestly, night and day.
If you don't have a librarian:
Seriously. First order of business: campaign for a full-time librarian at your school. Whatever it takes. Some school districts see librarians as book-checker-outers and make it part time or hire fantastic but untrained people to fill in in order to save money. But I've seen it hundreds of times and there's no replacing a professional, trained, MLS librarian in a school library. The librarian does SO MUCH MORE than check out books. They are the center of literacy for the school. This is very important. Do this first. And then prep for an author event.
Prepping ideas for the kids:
Why have an author school visit?:
Because sometimes an author speaking to the kids is the hook some kids need to get into reading, to fall in love with it, to discover they are a reader. Sometimes an author speaking to the kids is the hook some kids need to start writing. Reading and writing skills are the foundation of ongoing education and employment. Writing for fun leads to writing skills. Reading for fun leads to reading skills. And future success is heavily weighted on having those skills.
Recently a teacher told me after a writing workshop I did that in her decades of teaching she'd never seen the kids so engaged and excited to write and that the entire class's writing skills shot up in the months that followed.
A while back a couple of educators sent me their take on author visits:
"I had Frank Beddor visit the middle school where I was student teacher. He did 3 assemblies (one for each grade) and he discussed the writing process, his books, what it means to be an author, etc. He then sold his books outside as kids were picked up from school. He also spent lunch with my own students in an intimate gathering. They were riveted!
"The change in our school was palpable. We’ve always been a reading-oriented school, but after the assemblies kids were discussing books in the hallways, the library had LONG hold lists, and kids were sharing recommendations for future reads. Kids wanted to write their own books.
"I’ll repeat that last: KIDS WANTED TO WRITE.
"They talked about those assemblies for the rest of the year. Here’s a local newspaper article: http://www.theacorn.com/news/2010-04-08/Schools/AC_Stelle_teams_up_with_popular_author.html
"I teach completely online now (online high school English), but if I were in a brick-and-mortar I would try to host an author every semester. THAT’S how important I think those visits are. Those events can change lives." Ashley Benning
"I have been teaching for the past 13 years. The last two and a half have been in 5th grade. I was turned on to your books last year by a colleague and my students and I fell in love with them. I spent the summer reading the Bayern Series and the Princess Academy books. Last year, you were gracious enough to Skype with several classes from our school. The students saw you as a real person and realized they could write as well. Then reality set in when you told students it took you years to write a story.
"I am again teaching Goose Girl this year and because I "met" you on Skype I was able to share that with my students this year and they LOVE the book, so much so that I'm a little concerned as to how I'm going to top Goose Girl.
"Over my lifetime, I believe I've had 3 author's visits. Each time students and I were inspired to be better readers and writers." Jen Hess
In conclusion: Librarians! PTO! Teachers! Kids! Everyone gets involved, makes it fun, gets excited. Then sit back and watch what happens after.
Yesterday (Mother's Day) my 4yo woke me up at 6:30 am. She busied herself with something for a few minutes, so I opened my computer and wrote this.
It's mother's day! And I am a mother. I am not a goddess. I am not a saint. I am not an angel. I am Wile E. Coyote and perfection is the Road Runner. There have been times in my life when I yearned to be a mother and couldn't. There have been times when I was a mother and would have offered up the title to Mephistopheles in exchange for a few hours of sleep. At times I have wept with transcendental joy at the profound miracle of these precious tiny individuals, and hummed and sang and nearly burned up with the honor of being the one who got to care for them. At times I have wept with the crushing burden of being that one and allowed my gaze to flick to the road and contemplate, even for a second, on the possibility of just running away.
Most days fall somewhere between transcendental and crushing.
Mothers are not more blessed and sacred and noble than any other person. To claim so is unloading shovelfuls of weight on us that frankly makes it harder to do what we have to do. Also what we love to do, yearn to do, loathe to do. Choose to do. I am a mother. And I am flawed and messy and stumbling around making all this up as I go along. I don't have the time or the balance to stand on a pedestal. I need to be down on my bare feet, down on my knees at times, in the muck of life. But by all means, give me some chocolate today and an extra hour to sleep in. And give me a day when I'm reminded to think about my own mother, mother-in-law, and leagues of women, with or without children, who don't have the time or balance for a pedestal but are just their badass selves, down here with me, making this all up as we go along.
Elizabeth Bird (librarian, author, blogger) asked me to contribute to her upcoming anthology FUNNY GIRL. For the announcement, she wanted me to write a sentence or two about being funny and being a girl and a writer or whatever, and yeah, I got carried away. Here’s the stuff I sent her that was obv too long for her announcement article.
While there are moments of humor in my first two books (Goose Girl & Enna Burning), no one would rightly call these comedies. When I was writing Princess Academy, I remember going to NYC for something and having a meeting with my editor and publicist. They'd read an early draft of Princess Academy. They both said, "We've been talking about how funny you are in person but how that doesn't come out in your books. Is there room for humor in this book? Is Miri funny?" And I thought, well, yeah, she is. She would totally use humor to defuse tension. So why hadn't I written that? The truth is I think I'd bought into the idea that "girls aren't funny." I heard that hundreds of times growing up. And again as adults, with regards to movies especially: "women aren't funny." I'd swallowed the party line without realizing it. But I was beginning to question it. Are we really not funny? Not as funny as the guys? Or do people assume we're not so don't notice when we are? The answer is clearly yes since I’m hysterical.
Ten of my twenty published books could be considered comedies, and yet I've never heard myself referred to as a comedic writer. TEN BOOKS. Never been invited on a humor book panel (those are for man writers). And the books that I co-write with my husband (Rapunzel's Revenge, Princess in Black) people always assume the funny parts are his. Hundreds of times people have pointed out parts that made them laugh and then asked, "Did Dean write that?" And most of the time, I had. Make no mistake, he is very funny and witty and clever. Too.
Here's a little story. Fifteen years ago when Dean and I were getting married, we made a wedding website. One night at a get together with our old group of friends:
Mike: "Dean, I loved your wedding website. It was really funny. I kept laughing out loud."
Me: "Well, you know, he built the site but I wrote the content."
Mike: nods "You typed it?"
Me: "I wrote it."
Mike: "You typed it up for him?"
Me: "No. I wrote it."
Mike: "You helped him write it?"
Me: "No, I came up with the words and put them together in sentences and wrote them down."
He was still so stumped. It took several more exchanges for him to get it. Later he returned.
Mike: "I guess I've just always thought of Dean as the writer."
Me: "I just received my MFA in Creative Writing."
He returned later yet again.
Mike: "I guess with couples, we're used to just thinking that one of them is the funny one."
Me: "You and I were in an improv comedy troupe together."
Mike is a wonderful human being and open-minded and a feminist and we're still very close. And believe me, he's been teased about this mercilessly by all of us for over a decade. But this is how deep the "girls aren't funny" idea runs. Even when presented with direct evidence, so many people can't see it! They keep seeing what they've been taught to believe.
So why does it matter? Why do kids need to see/hear/read women being funny? And hear adults acknowledging that they are funny? Because stereotypes shut down possibilities. The "class clown" is a boy. The actually truly funny girls in class are just "obnoxious" or "attention-seekers." Boys who are funny are encouraged, laughed, cheered. Girls who are funny are told to behave, shush, sit down. Comedy is a gift to humanity. How sad and pointless life would be without good laughs. We need to see girls being funny, encourage them to develop their sense of humor, reward them for the cleverness and intelligence it takes to make jokes. They'll be happier, more fulfilled human beings. And so will we. The more comedy the better!