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    July 11, 2014: Apply for a Thurber House residency!

    Thurber House has a Children’s Writer-in-Residence program for middle-grade authors each year and  guidelines and application form for the 2015 residency were just released.

    This unique residency has been in existence since 2001, offering  an opportunity for authors to have time to work on their writing in a fully furnished apartment, in the historic boyhood home of author and humorist, James Thurber. Deadline is October 31, 2014. For details, go to READ MORE

    July 10, 2014:

    Spread MG books in unexpected places 7/19
    Drop a copy of your own book or of another middle-grade favorite in a public place on July 19 -- and some lucky reader will stumble upon it.
    Ginger Lee Malacko is spearheading this Middle Grade Bookbomb (use the hashtag #mgbookbomb in social media) -- much in the spirit of Operation Teen Book Drop.  Read more ...

June 16, 2014:
Fizz, Boom, Read: Summer reading 2014

Hundreds of public libraries across the U.S. are celebrating reading this summer with  the theme Fizz, Boom, Read! Find out more about this year's collaborative summer reading program and check out suggested booklists and activities. Read more ...
 

April 30, 2014:
Join the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign and help change the world

The conversation on diversity in children's books has grown beyond book creators and gate keepers to readers and book buyers. What can you do? Take part in the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign May 1 though 3 on Tumblr and Twitter and in whatever creative ways you can help spread the word to take action. Read more ….

April 11, 2014:
Fall 2014 Children's Sneak Peek
A peek at forthcoming middle grade books (as well as picture books and YA books) in a round-up from Publisher's Weekly. First printed in the February 22 issue, but now available online. Time to add to your to-read list. Read more ...

April 9, 2014:
How many Newbery winners have you read?
You could make a traditional list of all the Newbery Medal Award-winning Children's Books you've read, but there's something so satisfying when you check them off and get a final tally on this BuzzFeed quiz. Read more ...

March 28, 2014:
Middle Grade fiction is hot at 2014 Bologna Children's Book Fair

For the second year in a row, publishers are clamoring for middle-grade, reporters Publishers Weekly. "I’ve been coming [to Bologna] for 12 to 15 years, and I’ve never had as many European publishers asking for middle-grade," said Steven Chudney of the Chudney Agency. Read more ...

February 14, 2014:
Cybils Awards announced
Ultra by David Carroll (Scholastic Canada) wins the Cybil for middle grade fiction; Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud (Disney Hyperion) wins for Speculative Fiction. Read more.

January 27, 2014: And the Newbery Medal goes to ...
Kate DiCamillo won the Newbery Medal for "Flora & Ulysses"; Rita Williams-Garcia won the Coretta Scott King Author award for "P.S. Be Eleven." Newbery Honor awards to authors Vince Vawter, Amy Timberlake, Kevin Henkes and Holly Black. For all the exciting ALA Youth Media Award News ... READ MORE

November 12, 2013:
Vote in the GoodReads semifinal round

Readers' votes have narrowed the middle-grade semifinals down to 20 titles. Log in to your GoodReads account and vote for your favorite middle-grade (and in other categories, of course). Read more ...

November 9, 2013:
Publishers Weekly Top Children's Books of 2013

Middle-grade and young adult titles selected by the editors of Publishers Weekly as their top picks of the year. Let the season of "top ten books" begin! Read more ...

October 14, 2013:
Middle Shelf: Cool Reads for Kids debuts January 2014

Shelf Media Group, publisher of Shelf Unbound indie book review magazine, will launch a new free digital-only publication for middle-grade readers. The debut issue features interviews with such notable authors as Margaret Peterson Haddix and Chris Grabenstein as well as reviews, excerpts, and more. Middle Shelf will be published bi-monthly beginning in January 2014.
Read more ...

September 19, 2013: Writer-in-Residence program at Thurber House

Dream of time and space to focus on your own writing project? Applications now being accepted (11/1/2013 deadline) for The Thurber House Residency in Children's Literature, a month-long retreat in the furnished third-floor apartment of Thurber House in Columbus, Ohio. Read more ...

September 18, 2013: Vermont College of Fine Arts Scholarship opportunity

Barry Goldblatt Literary launches The Angela Johnson Scholarship, a talent-based grant for writers of color attending the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults program at VCFA. Up to two $5,000 grants will be awarded each year. Read more ....

September 16, 2013:
National Book Awards longlist for youth literature

For the first time, the NBA is presenting lists of 10 books/authors on the longlist in each category. The 2013 young adult literature list includes five middle grade novels and five YA. Read more ...

Sept. 13, 2013: Spring preview
Check out Publishers Weekly roundup of upcoming children's books to be published in spring 2014. Read more...

August 21, 2013:
Want to be a Cybils Award Judge?

Middle grade categories are fiction, speculative fiction, nonfiction. Applications due August 31! Read more ...

August 19, 2013:
S&S and BN reach a deal
Readers will soon be able to find books from Simon & Schuster at Barnes & Noble. The bookstore chain was locked in a disagreement with the publisher over how much it was willing to pay for books. Read more ...

August 6, 2013:
NPR's 100 Must-Reads for Kids
NPR's Backseat Book Club asked listeners to nominate their favorite books for readers ages 9 to 14. More than 2,000 people nominated titles, and a panel of Newbery authors brought the list to 100. Most are middle grade books. Read more ...

 
July 2, 2013:
Penguin & Random House Merger

The new company, Penguin Random House, will control more than 25 percent of the trade book market in the United States. On Monday, the newly formed company began to take shape, only hours after a middle-of-the-night announcement that the long-planned merger had been completed. Read more ...

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  • It’s a Wonderful World–A Chat with Naheed Hasnat, author of Shooting Kabul

    Learning Differences

    It’s a great, big, beautiful world out there and if there’s one thing I love, it’s reading about places I’ve never been. I love a book that takes me away, shows me new sights, feeds me delicious food, and teaches me about the traditions, languages, dress, and relationships of another people. Shooting Kabul does just that and today we welcome Naheed Hasnat (N. H. Senzai), author of this award-winning, fun and fact-filled middle-grade novel that will surely charm you.

     

    Me: Welcome to the Mixed-Up Files, Naheed!                                  

    Naheed: Thanks for inviting me!

     

     

     

    Let’s start with a brief description of Shooting Kabul from Indiebound:

     

    “In the summer of 2001, twelve-year-old Fadi’s parents make the difficult decision to illegally leave Afghanistan and move the family to the United States. But in the chaos of their departure, Fadi’s six-year-old sister gets lost in the crowd—and is left behind.

    Adjusting to life in the United States isn’t easy for Fadi’s family, and as the events of September 11th unfold, the prospects of locating Mariam in war-torn Afghanistan seem slim. When a photography competition with a grand prize trip to India is announced, Fadi sees his chance to return to Afghanistan and find his sister. But can one photo really bring Mariam home?”

     

     

    Me: Shooting Kabul opens with the main character, Fadi, and his family fleeing the Taliban in Afghanistan. As they board the truck that will take them across the border to safety in Pakistan, the terror and confusion of the moment causes Fadi’s little sister to be left behind. Fadi blames himself. Not long after Fadi arrives in America, the country plunges into sorrow with the attacks on September 11, 2001. Shooting Kabul accurately and sensitively describes the sadness, anger, and bewilderment of that time. Fadi’s personal loss and guilt about his missing sister, his fear of fitting in to a new culture, as well as the tumultuous politics of the time worries him throughout the story.   

     Talk a little bit about why you were drawn to write this story and how your personal background influenced the emotion of the writing. What significance do you hope readers take away from the story?

    Naheed: I actually didn’t want to write Shooting Kabul and resisted it for many years. Why? Because it deals with many sensitive and personal issues—9-11, the war on terror, Islam, Afghan culture and politics, coupled with my husband’s family’s escape from Kabul, Afghanistan in 1979, when the Soviet Union invaded. Like Fadi’s father, my father-in-law had been a professor of Agriculture at Kabul University and earned his PhD at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He was forced to make a terrible decision in 1979, like Fadi’s family, and they escaped Kabul and immigrated to the United States.

    But no matter how much I resisted, the story niggled, so finally, I was compelled to tell it. My greatest challenge in writing the book was to make sure I didn’t resort to clichés and sensationalism when telling Fadi’s story; so after much thought I decided to write a fictionalized account of my husband’s journey while explaining the complexities and nuances of Afghan culture and politics in a way that could be understood by young and old alike. Also, I wanted to take a look at 9-11 and how it impacted all ethnic and religious communities. At a time when America contemplates its role in Afghanistan, my hope is that readers don’t automatically think of Afghans as “others.” Although the two countries are different in many ways, the people of both have the same hopes and dreams  – security, education for their children, access to healthcare, employment and hope for a positive future. And kids are kids everywhere; they play, learn, form friendships, and pursue their passions.

     

    Afghan children in traditional dress.

     

    Me: Shooting Kabul is full of rich references to Pukhtun culture, including traditional dress, food, rituals, and religion. Fadi lives in a section of Fremont in the Bay Area, California, called “Little Kabul.” The story is a snapshot of immigrant life in this neighborhood. How much time did you spend in “Little Kabul” while researching and how much of the setting is fictionalized?

    Naheed: I did a lot of research while writing the book! Since I’m not an Afghan, I wanted to make sure I had all the details right. My in-laws, who are Afghan, were very helpful in getting the history, food and cultural parts correct – especially the concept of Pukhtunwali, the code of honor that the Pukhtuns live by. I also did a lot of research on the Internet, the library and talking to people. One of my biggest goals was to be accurate while writing about these subjects. As you can imagine, there is tremendous complexity in explaining things like terrorism, Afghan culture, Islamic practices etc. and I wanted to do it in a nuanced, truthful way. I live fifteen minutes away from Little Kabul and go to the stores and restaurants there often. Most of the places in the book are real and you can visit them, though I’ve changed the names of a few.

    Me: Your descriptions of Pukhtun dishes are mouth-watering. What are some of your favorite foods from the story that you would recommend our readers try?

    Naheed: Since I love to eat and cook, particularly Afghan food, I talk a lot about food and eating in the book. Afghan food is delicious – geographically it lies on the edge  of Asia and the Middle East, bordering Pakistan, Iran, China and Central Asia. Afghan food is a perfect blend of Indian, Persian and Central Asia flavors. I would recommend going in to an Afghan restaurant, or better yet find an Afghan friend – they are very hospitable, and love to feed their guests. I mentioned many dishes in the book, like Kabuli Pulao (rice with lamb sprinkled with candied carrots and raisins), Bolani (a flat bread filled with spiced potatoes), and many Kabobs (fragrant, flavorful grilled meat) and of course one of my favorites, Mantu (an Afghan style ravioli) which is Mariam’s favorite dish and one that Fadi can’t bring himself to eat until his sister is found.

    Delicious Mantu and Naheed's recipe

     

    Ask an adult to give you a hand in the kitchen and try Fadi’s favorite dish.   

    Ingredients:

    1 1/2 lb ground beef

    1 tbsp salt (as needed)

    1 tbsp pepper (as needed)

    1 ½ tbsp coriander ground

    ¼ tbsp cumin ground

    2 cups chopped onion

    1 package wonton wrappers

    2 tbsp tomato paste

    6 tbsp oil

    ¾ cup yogurt

    ¼ tbsp dried mint

    2 mashed garlic gloves

    1) Mantu Filling: Heat 5 tbsp oil and add 1 ½ cups onion. sauté till softened. Add 1 lb ground beef, salt, pepper, cumin, coriander and 1/2 cup water and cook over medium heat for 30 minutes or until all the water is absorbed. Let it cool off.

    2) Place wrappers on a cutting board and keep a cup of water in a bowl nearby.  Take a wrapper and dip your index finger in the bowl of water and rub the edges of the wrapper to make it wet. Place one tablespoon of the beef mixture on the bottom half of the wrapper. Bring the other half on top of the bottom half making a triangle. Take two opposite corners each in different hands and seal them together making a bow. Place oil in a bowl and dip the bottoms of the filled mantu and place them in a steam cooker. Steam the dumplings for about 25 minutes or longer, on a medium heat.

    3) Sauce: In a medium saucepan heat tablespoon oil and sauté onions till translucent. Add remaining beef and brown for 5-8 minutes over medium heat. Add with tomato paste and cook on medium-low heat for 10 minutes.

    4) Yogurt: Add garlic, 2 teaspoons water and salt to taste, mix.

    5) To serve, pour a layer of the yogurt on a flat serving plate then place the mantu on top. Place another layer of yogurt on top and add a layer of the beef sauce. Sprinkle some fresh or dry mint on top of the plate.

     

    Me: I can’t wait to try Mantu! In Shooting Kabul, Fadi forms a small but diverse, multicultural group of friends at school yet he faces bullying because his family is Muslim. You confront this issue with grace. How is Fadi a typical American middle school kid and how is he different?

    Naheed: For thousands of years, Afghanistan has been a battle ground for outsiders – Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan came with their armies, as did the British and the Soviets. All attempted to conquer and occupy, yet failed. Internally, the country has faced ethnic tensions between various groups—Pukhtun, Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek, and others. Coming to America, it would be natural for Fadi to adjust to a multicultural community. So in this regard, he is a typical kid, fitting into a new place. And initially the bullying against Fadi and his friends starts out not because of ethnic issues, but over money, where the bullies make the younger kids give them their lunch money. But after 9-11 the mood of the country changes, and this affects children as well. What they hear around them is reflected at school. So, in the story, this highlights that Fadi is targeted because he is “other” – Muslim, Middle Eastern.

    Me: What would you like to say to readers about bullying?

    Naheed: Bullying is never okay. My definition of bullying is that  if someone says or does something to you that makes you uncomfortable, then that is a form of bullying. Combating bullying should be a task for an entire community which involves parents, teachers and the children affected. Sadly, bullying is on the rise and the roots causes of bullying need to be understood. Children affected by bullying should be empowered to realize that there is nothing wrong with them and that they need to find the support to end it.

    Me: *nods and agrees and hopes anyone in fear finds a trusted adult to help* The word “shooting” in your title refers to photography. Fadi is a budding photographer with a keen eye for detail. Along with classmates, he enters a prestigious regional photography contest to try to win a trip that will take him to a country close to where the family suspects his sister is trapped. Why did you choose this talent for Fadi’s character?

    Naheed: The idea to include photography in Shooting Kabul came to me when I found an old copy of National Geographic I had had for many years, which has a picture of an Afghan refugee girl on the cover. It is a photo that inspired me to take up photography as a hobby. Here it is:

     

    Original cover from National Geographic--photo by Steve McMurry

    Naheed continues: Steve McMurry is the renowned photojournalist who took this image of the “Afghan Girl”, who was on the cover of the National Geographic on June 1985. Steve had taken the picture of girl with the haunting green eyes at the refugee camp in Pakistan during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. After the magazine came out, thousands of people contacted Steve to know about the girl – they wanted to help her, adopt her, or even marry her.

    Steve looked for her for many years and couldn’t find her. Finally, 17 years later, he finally did.

    National Geographic, "A Life Revealed"

    They confirmed it was her by using the picture of her iris – the blood vessels acted as a fingerprint, identifying her, since no two people have the same layout of blood vessels. As I looked at pictures of refugee children, I thought how horrible it would be if, in the process of escaping, a brother were to lose his younger sister when her hand slipped through his. With that thought, the plot of the book developed, and I knew photography would lead the final resolution of the book. After I wrote the book, I sent a copy to Steve McMurry, since part of the inspiration for the book came from his picture, and photography plays an important role in the book. I’m happy to report he loved the book and gave it a glowing review.

    Me: That is so cool, Naheed. I have the feeling you’ve just inspired young photographers! Shooting Kabul certainly inspired me in many ways, for many reasons. I’ll bet you get a lot of questions from readers. Will you share one of your favorites? 

    Naheed: One of the most interesting questions I’ve had was from a student who wanted to know if my in-laws were happy with the book and whether anyone thought that I’d written something wrong. I told her that thankfully, they were all happy and I was in their good graces still!

    Thank you for joining us today, Naheed, and it was a pleasure meeting you!

    It’s a great, big, wonderful world out there and if you’d like to ask Naheed a question about Shooting Kabul or Afghan life as Fadi sees it, she’s agreed to stick around for a couple days. Just post your question in the comment section below. Don’t forget to check out her website and blog at: www.nhsenzai.com and http://nahasen.blogspot.com/

     

     

    Diana Greenwood is the author of INSIGHT, Zondervan, 2011. She lives in the Napa Valley and through books, travels everywhere in the world.  Visit her at www.dianagreenwood.com

     

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