Sunday, April 25, 2010

*I've blogged about Ruby Lu, Brave and True, an early chapter book written by Lenore Look and illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf, over at Color Online. Click here to read the post.

I loved Ruby Lu, Brave and True so much that I read it twice in a row. I just bought the sequel Ruby Lu, Empress of Everything, so expect me to blog about it at Color Online next week. :o)

*I've been given a Sunshine Award by Megumi Lemons of Goomie's World. "The Sunshine Award is awarded to bloggers whose positivity and creativity inspire others in the blogging world." Thank you, Megumi!

Megumi is an illustrator and you should all check out her work here.

*I will be in Singapore from May 5 to May 9 to attend the very first Asian Festival of Children's Content. Expect blog posts from me about the festival. I AM SO EXCITED!!!

Let me know if you are going to the festival too. :o)

Walker Stories from the UK

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Valentine's Day concert is just a few days away. Ruby Rai is part of the Loveheart Dance. Unfortunately, when Ruby stands on tiptoe and turns circles, she wobbles and falls over. When she jumps, her feet hardly leave the ground. When she tries to wave her heart-shaped balloon gracefully, it gets caught between her knees. Ruby wants to dance just like her Auntie Pooja who won a Bollywood dancing competition! Auntie Pooja gives Ruby a heart made of rubies for good luck. Will it help Ruby dance gracefully during the concert?

A Heart for Ruby, written by Franzeska Ewart and illustrated by Lauren Tobia (Walker Books, 2009), is a really quiet book with three connected short stories for children, but I like it. I like how it handles the ideas of luck and self-confidence in a very gentle and natural way. I like how above all it is a touching book about the relationship between an aunt and her niece.

Tariq Chaudury simply adores his funny dad. But when his teacher invites his dad to school to speak about his job as a taxi driver, Tariq puts the invitation in the dustbin. Tariq's dad speaks Bengali. He has a strong accent when he speaks English. Tariq's classmate Tom Morley says that Tariq's dad sounds "stupid" when he speaks English. How can Tariq's dad give a talk at school in front of someone like Tom Morley?

I love My Dad, the Hero, written by Stella Gurney and illustrated by Katharine McEwen (Walker Books, 2008)! It has three very realistic and connected short stories for children with just the right amount and mix of tension, drama, sweetness, and tenderness. It also has perfect pace. Wow. I highly recommend this entertaining book.

[I bought my own copies of A Heart for Ruby and My Dad, the Hero.]

Author Interview: Neesha Meminger

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Watch the book trailer for Shine, Coconut Moon by Neesha Meminger:

Author Neesha Meminger's debut work is Shine, Coconut Moon, an important and interesting young adult novel about the many complexities of family, identity, and living between two cultures.

I've asked Neesha some questions to get to know more about her and her work. Thank you, Neesha, for answering my questions. And thank you very much for Shine, Coconut Moon - my wonderful gateway to learning about Indians, Indian Americans, and Sikhism!

Can you please tell us a bit about your South Asian heritage?

I was born in Punjab, India and we moved to Canada when I was five. I have been in the west since. My parents didn't speak a word of English, so we spoke only Punjabi at home, and only English at school. I think it took me a while to figure out both, but it's where my fascination with the rhythms of language, the importance of word choice, and the power of the word took root.

Growing up, were you more like your Shine, Coconut Moon character Sharan (rebelling against South Asian traditions) or more like her teen daughter Samar (seeking to learn more about South Asian traditions)?

I was both. I absolutely rebelled, viciously, against traditions and what I then considered restrictive customs and cultural norms, but I was also a lot like Sam - desperate to know more about myself and where I came from. My parents grew up immersed in where they came from. They took it for granted that they were thriving on the land of their ancestors - that they were steeped in the language, food, clothing, traditions, beliefs, and culture of generation after generation before them. I didn't have that. I was a transplant - uprooted and replanted in a very foreign place with no connection to the past beyond my parents. I had to do a lot of digging and recreating to discover who I was. And that was not my parents, nor the world I'd been unceremoniously dropped in. It was something new that I was creating as I went along.

What were you like as a teen reader and writer?

Oh, as a writer, I was very angsty. Very dramatic. In my journals, every event was either the WORST THING IN THE WORLD, or the BEST THING EVAR! (grin)

But as a reader, I loved fantasy like Babbitt's Tuck Everlasting, and realistic teen fiction a la Judy Blume, Paula Danziger, S.E. Hinton, and Lois Lowry. I also inhaled romance novels of ALL kinds.

Can you please guide us through your writing process?

It goes something like this: An idea hits me and sort of forms into a rough plot structure. I start writing the first chapter and things change in the initial structure. I follow those changes and the story emerges through the characters' wants, needs, and voices. Then I do as Stephen King says - I follow the headlights in the dark as far as they allow me to see until I get to the end.

Why did you write Shine, Coconut Moon?

I wanted to tell the story of three generations of Punjabi, Sikh women and the bonds and fissures created through the generational divide, as well as migration. I wanted to tell the story from the perspective not of the recently arrived, or even the first generation - but of the generation that is deeply rooted in western soil. And I couldn't do that without also looking at the world as it is now...post 9/11.

Who are your favorite authors? How have they influenced your writing?

I would have to say some of the authors I've listed above, and then in later years, Octavia Butler, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Elaine Bergstrom, Natalie Babbitt, Jeanette Winterson, and so many more. Reading the works of these authors opened doors for me. The feminists, especially, allowed me to see that it was possible to write stories from a progressive, feminist perspective that looked at power structures critically and envisioned new possibilities. I cherish so many of those works today, even after reading and re-reading them so many times I can accurately quote passages without having to turn to the actual texts. (smile)

You have a BA in Film and Media Arts and your independent films have been screened at international film festivals. How does your background in film influence your writing?

It might make me a more visual writer. Because I've done overnights in the editing studio, trying to tell a story with images, figuring out which one to put next and how long it should be and whether it should dissolve into the one before it or be a straight cut...perhaps that makes me more prone to think the same way when working with text. I still love the combination of text and images. I find the combination to be incredibly powerful.

What books would you like to match or surpass with your own work in terms of writing, awards, popularity, sales, or influence? Why?

My only hope is to contribute to the awe-inspiring work of some of the women I've mentioned above. If my work can have even some of the effect those works have had on me, it will be a success. I'm not as concerned with awards and popularity and all that stuff, honestly. As long as my books find the readers who will cherish them, and in whose lives those books will have a profound impact - that's what will keep me going.

What are your favorite Asian children's and young adult books?

I love Bindi Babes by Narinder Dhami, Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier and I love the works of my fellow authors in the US - Marina Budhos (who has a new title coming out this year), Mitali Perkins, and Uma Krishnaswami, just to name a few. I'm also very much looking forward to reading my copy of Ash by Malinda Lo and Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon. I do wish there had been more books by Asian authors when I was growing up, but I'm certainly thrilled that there are some out there now!

Thank you again, Neesha!

Author/Illustrator Interview: Grace Lin

Sunday, April 11, 2010

I am absolutely THRILLED to be interviewing Grace Lin today! Grace Lin is a Taiwanese American children's book author and illustrator - and a really impressive one at that. Her work is always charming and endearing. And her work is always excellent storytelling.

Grace's most recent book is the Newbery Honor-winning middle grade fantasy novel Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is one of my favorite children's books (click here to read my review of it). Grace's next book is the easy reader Ling & Ting: Not Exactly the Same!, which is out in July.

Hi, Grace! Welcome!

What were you like as a young reader?

Well, I have to admit my tastes have not changed a great deal since then. I love to read but if the book does not have a happy ending, I feel completely gypped (as a young reader, I threw away my copy of CS Lewis' The Last Battle with a great deal of disgust). I tend to like "cozy" books--books that are heartwarming and timeless. And when I love a book, I LOVE it. I reread books over and over again, I never get tired of the books I love.

What were you like as a young artist?

Reading, writing, drawing and painting were always my favorite things. In early elementary school I loved Richard Scarry and would trace his drawings repeatedly. Then, somewhere between 6th and 7th grade, I became a unicorn and princess girl and I adored the illustrations by the classic illustrators Arthur Rackham and Kay Nielson, even though I could not paint or draw like them. This adulation would continue until I went to art school where I came to the realization that I would never be able to paint like Maxfield Parrish and that was okay. I could only draw and paint like me, Grace Lin, and instead of trying to copy someone else, I should find a way of painting and drawing that was my own.

Can you please guide us through the creative process you use when you are working on a book?

Hmm, every book is different so it's hard to give a general answer. Usually, I'll have an idea or motif swimming around my head for a long time, sometimes years. For example, I pictured large origami animals for years before finally making Lissy's Friends and kept thinking about goldfish before having one in Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. (I write a little about this in my post here). Sometimes it takes a long time before those images can find their way into their story.

But when the story finally comes, it is usually a building of words a bit at a time. Many authors talk about characters "speaking to them" or having the story flow out of them. It doesn't really work like that for me, it is usually more of me just unromantically pegging away. I always write the story first, though once in a while I will do a rough drawing as an inspiration. But I never make full painted illustrations until the story is done. Even though I am an illustrator, I feel that pictures should match the story--not the other way around.

Because after countless revisions, I usually start the images. I try to have the art correlate to the stories, but still have my own visual voice. For example, for Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, since the story was very much inspired by ancient Chinese folktales, I made the art a bit more traditional looking. In my upcoming book, Ling & Ting, since it is an early reader with simple language, I let the art be less complex and more graphic. I try to adapt my style for the content of the book.

Who are your favorite authors? How have they influenced your own writing?

My favorite classic authors are Lucy Maud Montgomery (I even went to PEI to see Green Gables!), Noel Streatfeild, Natalie Babbitt, Rumer Godden, Carolyn Haywood, Beverly Cleary, Maud Hart Lovelace, and Eleanor Estes. Of course there are many, many more, but those are the ones on the top of the list. They all influence my writing in different ways but what inspires me the most of all of them is how timeless most of their books are. I feel that any child could read them and relate to them and they will always be wonderful reads. That is what I aspire my books to be like.

Grace, your books ARE like that!

Who are your favorite artists, illustrators, and graphic designers? How have they influenced your own artwork?

My favorite classic illustrators were the ones I mentioned above (Richard Scarry, Arthur Rackham) as well as Tasha Tudor and Trina Schart Hyman, but there are numerous contemporary illustrators I admire as well: Elisa Kleven, Sophie Blackall, Melissa Sweet, Dan Yaccarino, Lucy Cousins, Meghan McCarthy, Yumi Heo and many many more. If you know any of those artists, you can see my taste varies quite a bit!

My visual style began as a heavily influenced mix of Chinese folk art and Matisse and the rest of my favorite artists and has slowly evolved from there. However, the longer I have worked in my style, the less influence the art of my admired artists are seen--nowadays, as I mentioned before, it is more the story and content that affect the art. However, my favorite artists are still a source of inspiration--whenever I struggle with an image seeing their art makes me keep working!

What are your favorite Asian children's books? Why are they your favorites?

For MG novels, I loved In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson and the Alvin Ho books. Unfortunately, I never read these as a child (well, Alvin Ho is recently published but I still wish I had read it as a child!). I love these because they are just great books that are fun and warm and full of heart that I know I would've loved if I had read them if I was younger (remember, wasn't a fan of sad books so Kira-Kira, as beautiful as it is, would've been ignored-sorry!).

You might have noticed that none of my favorite authors listed above are Asian. This is because when I was a child, there were so few Asian books available. This has changed quite a bit in the more recent years, but it is one of the reasons why most of the books I write and illustrate now are Asian-oriented. They are the books I missed when I was younger. I think the only Asian books that I enjoyed in my youth that I remember were the Little Pear books by Eleanor Lattimore. I've had a chance to reread one of them recently and I think it still holds up well. A sweet little classic, I think.

For PBs, I think almost everything Ed Young does is beautiful. I don't know how I would've felt about it as a child, but as an adult I feel his art is gorgeous, especially Wabi Sabi. Something I love now and know that I would've loved as a child is Yoko by Rosemary Wells. Not only is the art lovely, it captures a very relate-able Asian child experience!

What is your strongest or favorite memory from your travels in Asia? What other Asian countries would you like to visit?

Gosh, there were so many amazing memories! The food! The markets! Everything!

In Hong Kong, the highlights were seeing the big Buddha and sailing in a junk. Hong Kong was truly a magical trip as I basically had Amy, the librarian at the Hong Kong International School as my personal tour guide.

In China, the highlight was when we went to the Great Wall and it was almost empty and dusted with snow. I'll never forget how lovely it was.

And in Taiwan, because I went with my parents and it is where most of my extended family is, the best memories are just being with them...and eating (soup dumplings!).

I'd love to go back to all three places, as even with the longest visit there are things you don't get to see. I've been yearning to see the Yellow Mountains of China and I've heard that Thailand is also beautiful. And the Philippines, of course!

Grace, thank you so much for visiting Asia in the Heart, World on the Mind and chatting with me. :o)

[All photos courtesy of Grace Lin. Grace's official author photo (at the beginning of this post) was taken by Alexandre Ferron.]

1st National Children's Book Awards

Saturday, April 10, 2010
I'd like to share a few pictures from the signing of the memorandum of agreement between the National Book Development Board - Philippines and the Philippine Board on Books for Young People for the 1st National Children's Book Awards.

All photos and information are courtesy of children's and young adult book editor Ramón "Rayvi" Sunico, the publishing representative to the Philippine Board on Books for Young People. Thank you, Rayvi!

This is the logo of the National Children's Book Awards, designed by children's book illustrator Ruben “Totet” De Jesus.

And this is a model of the trophy for the awards. Isn't it adorable?! The final version will be a ceramic trophy mounted on a mahogany base with a brass plate.

Here are members of the National Book Development Board - Philippines and the Philippine Board on Books for Young People discussing the awards before the signing of the memorandum of agreement.

And here are pictures of the actual signing!

Click here for the rules for the awards. Click here for the nomination form. All nominations are due April 15!

Thanks again to Rayvi. :o)

One Amazing Friday

Friday, April 9, 2010
This post is long overdue: I had the most amazing Friday in February. I got to have lunch with children's and young adult book author Candy Gourlay and her Philippine editor Ramón "Rayvi" Sunico. Aside from being a really great writer for young readers, Candy is the most down to earth person I have ever met. Rayvi is a pioneer in children's and young adult literature in the Philippines, and is a fountain of wisdom on reading and writing in general.

After our lunch, Candy gave a talk at the Ateneo de Manila University - Suffering in Translation: A Filipino Author's Writing Journey.

Here I am listening intently to Candy. I wish that every writer in the Philippines, not just the writers for young readers, had attended the talk. It was an inspiring reminder of the importance of hard work, patience, and perseverance in writing. Candy related her writing journey to the hero's journey.

The end of the talk was a real treat for the audience! Candy and Rayvi signed the contract for Candy's debut novel, Tall Story, to be published in the Philippines by Cacho Publishing House. (Tall Story will be published in the U.K. and in the U.S. by David Fickling Books.)

This is me and Candy talking with Rayvi - about books of course!

And here I am with both Candy and Rayvi. :o)

Here is the U.K. cover and dust jacket for Tall Story. I love how it is so multicultural!

For more information about Tall Story, click here to read my interview with Candy!

Thanks to Rayvi and to Candy's friends Frankie and Ricky for sharing all these pictures with me!

Abdullah and His Grandfather by Andy McNab

Sunday, April 4, 2010

My name is Abdullah Bin Salim al Ashur and I live with my people in Wadi Hasik close to Al Haffah in the Governance of Dhofar on the southern coast of Oman.

Abdullah and His Grandfather, written by Andy McNab and illustrated by Patricia Al Fakhri (Jerboa Books, 2008) is about the greatest day of eleven-year-old Abdullah's life: the first day his grandfather took him to the wadi (dried riverbed) to harvest Boswellia trees for their luban (frankincense). Luban is essential to Abdullah and his grandfather and their people, and greatly prized in Omani history. Abdullah is very happy and eager to learn how to make a taqii (cut) on Boswellia tree branches using his manqaf (a traditional Arabic tool like a miniature scythe) so that luban will leak from the branches. The luban will harden and in two to three weeks time will resemble large pearls. These pearls of luban can then be removed from the trees and sold in the suqs (traditional Arab market places) of Salalah.

Abdullah and His Grandfather
is an absolutely fascinating book. I learned so much about harvesting frankincense - everything from how to prepare a manqaf to how frankincense becomes part of a bokhur (a fragrance that is a blend of many different ingredients). Since Abdullah and his grandfather are exploring the wadi in the story, I also learned about the wadi and the wildlife there. The book also begins with a helpful glossary of Arabic terms and ends with a history of frankincense trade in the region.

The illustrations in the book are impressionistic watercolor paintings in the palette of the sandscapes of Oman. Unfortunately, the book design wasn't very well thought out. The layout for the text and the illustrations seemed random, and because of this it was a little difficult to know when one chapter or part of the story ended and another began.

Abdullah and His Grandfather is a picture book, but it is best for ages 8-12, as Abdullah is 11, and the book is long (97 pages), with serious subject matter and a very formal tone that younger readers may not fully appreciate or have the patience for. But Abdullah and His Grandfather is still entertaining because it is very much about the curiosity and excitement from growing up and having family traditions passed on to you. It is also very much about the relationship between Abdullah and his grandfather.

This book is a must-have for all school and public libraries. I can't think of a more pleasant reading experience for children to learn a bit about Omani culture and heritage.

Abdullah and His Grandfather is also available in Arabic.

[My copy of the book was a gift from my cousin Kate. Thank you, Kate!]