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    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 ...

    March 28, 2013: Big at Bologna

     This year at the Bologna Children's Book Fair, the focus has shifted to middle-grade.  “A lot of foreign publishers are cutting back on YA and are looking for middle-grade,” said agent Laura Langlie, according to Publisher's Weekly.  Lighly illustrated or stand-alone contemporary middle-grade fiction is getting the most attention.  Read more...

     

    March 10, 2013: Marching to New Titles

    Check out these titles releasing in March...

     

    March 5, 2013: Catch the BEA Buzz

    Titles for BEA's Editor Buzz panels have been announced.  The middle-grade titles selected are:

    A Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates #1: Magic Marks the Spot by Caroline Carlson

    Counting By 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

    The Fantastic Family Whipple by Matthew Ward

    Nick and Tesla's High-Voltages Danger Lab by Bob Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith

    The Tie Fetch by Amy Herrick

    For more Buzz books in other categories, read more...

     

    February 20, 2013: Lunching at the MG Roundtable 

    Earlier this month, MG authors Jeanne Birdsall, Rebecca Stead, and N.D. Wilson shared insight about writing for the middle grades at an informal luncheon with librarians held in conjunction with the New York Public Library's Children's Literary Salon "Middle Grade: Surviving the Onslaught."

    Read about their thoughts...

     

    February 10, 2013: New Books to Love

    Check out these new titles releasing in February...

     

    January 28, 2013: Ivan Tops List of Winners

    The American Library Association today honored the best of the best from 2012, announcing the winners of the Newbery, Caldecott, and Printz awards, along with a host of other prestigious youth media awards, at their annual winter meeting in Seattle.

    The Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature went to The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. Honor books were: Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz; Bomb: The Race to Build--and Steal--the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin; and Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage.

    The Coretta Scott King Book Award went to Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America written by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Brian Pinkney.

    The Laura Ingalls Wilder Award,which honors an author for his or her long-standing contributions to children’s literature, was presented to Katherine Paterson.

    The Pura Belpre Author Award, which honors a Latino author, went to Benjamin Alire Saenz for his novel Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, which was also named a Printz Honor book and won the Stonewall Book Award for its portrayal of the GLBT experience.

    For a complete list of winners…

     

    January 22, 2013: Biography Wins Sydney Taylor

    Louise Borden's His Name Was Raoul Wallenberg, a verse biography of the Swedish humanitarian, has won the Sydney Taylor Award in the middle-grade category. The award is given annually to books of the highest literary merit that highlight the Jewish experience. Aimee Lurie, chair of the awards committee, writes, "Louise Borden's well-researched biography will, without a doubt, inspire children to perform acts of kindness and speak out against oppression."

    For more...

     

    January 17, 2013: Erdrich Wins Second O'Dell

    Louise Erdrich is recipient of the 2013 Scott O'Dell Award for her historical novel Chickadee, the fourth book in herBirchbark House series. Roger Sutton,Horn Book editor and chair of the awards committee, says of Chickadee,"The book has humor and suspense (and disarmingly simple pencil illustrations by the author), providing a picture of 1860s Anishinabe life that is never didactic or exotic and is briskly detailed with the kind of information young readers enjoy." Erdrich also won the O'Dell Award in 2006 for The Game of Silence, the second book in theBirchbark series. 

    For more...

     

    January 15, 2013: After the Call

    Past Newbery winners Jack Gantos, Clare Vanderpool, Neil Gaiman, Rebecca Stead, and Laura Amy Schlitz talk about how winning the Newbery changed (or didn't change) their lives in this piece from Publishers Weekly...

     

    January 2, 2013: On the Big Screen

    One of our Mixed-up Files members may be headed to the movies! Jennifer Nielsen's fantasy adventure novel The False Prince is being adapted for Paramount Pictures by Bryan Cogman, story editor for HBO's Game of Thrones. For more...

     

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Written in Stone and cross cultural writing

Book Lists

We passed a national milestone recently and one of particular relevance to everyone who writes for children. Our last census demonstrated that more than 50% of kids in this country are children of color, and for children’s writers it’s cause for reflection. Adding to the issue is the fact that well over 90% of children’s writers are white. The writers of adult literature are slightly more reflective of our national landscape but it’s a very white world among the creators of children’s books and a mostly white world for children’s book characters. And for a nation of hungry readers this disconnect will be problematic unless we dramatically increase the number of non-white characters in books from it’s current level of about 10% every year. And how do we accomplish this? The long term solution, of course, is to raise up a generation of young writers of color to write the books they are longing to read. Unfortunately that is a very long term project. In the short term, white writers will have to make at least some of their characters reflect the cultures present in their communities, even if those cultures are not a part of their own families. And inevitably that raises the question–
What right does an author have to write a character outside their own cultural experience?
 
This is a question I’ve grappled with for more than a decade in writing my book which comes to bookstores in the coming week. Written in Stone is set among the Makah and Quinault tribes of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington in the 1920s. Pearl Carver’s story is one of cultural survival. It’s a story about how to continue being a true Makah, a true daughter of whalers when the whales have gone from the ocean.
WrittenInStone_FinalArt
So why in a universe of possible stories would I chose to tell this one? The first answer, the one that started me on the journey was simply that my students wanted a story about them. My first teaching job was on the Quinault reservation. My fifth grade class read Julie of the Wolves which in the early 1990s was the best book I could find (and afford) with a Native American main character. My class liked the story but insisted that Julie was nothing like them. The knew that, although they were usually classified as the same race, Alaskan natives have their own culture, language, environment, economy, and mythology, and that it was all very different from theirs. We had a great conversation about what a story about them should include, and one of my students who often summed up things on behalf of the class said rather wistfully, “Well I guess there’s never going to be a book like that unless one of us grows up and writes it.”   That girl, grew up to be a teacher and I (who had planned on being a teacher my whole life) grew up to be an author. And I never forgot how much my students wanted to see somebody like them in a book.
So does that give me a right to write about their culture? Certainly having a personal connection to a culture you are trying to portray matters. If nothing else it makes it much easier to find detailed and authentic information, when you know people who are experts in the particular information you need. Most of what I learned about the cultures I was writing about come from conversations with my neighbors. IMG_0343For example, the grandmother of one of my students spent a week teaching my class traditional basket making techniques. I learned along with them and although I’m not an expert on native basket making, I do know how one Quinault grandma does it. And I know something about how she feels about her baskets and what it meant to my student’s to tap into this centuries old art as taught by a highly respected artist in their own community.
Connection matters. But it is far from the only thing needed. Robust research is also needed, and not just for a character of a different race. When I was working on my recent novel Second Fiddle I had an Estonian Soviet soldier character. Although the man was white, we were different in language, religion, generation, political background, gender, class, and education. I did extensive cultural research including spending time in worship with Lutherans, listening to Estonian music, reading (in translation) Estonian novels, watching documentaries and listening to Soviet officers talk about the Cold War era. If I needed that much research to really understand the perspective, the aspirations and the fears of a supporting character, all the more research was needed to write Pearl’s story in Written in Stone. And I was fortunate to find great sources and a pair of tribes with both an avid interest in their own history and the resources to keep and celebrate their heritage. The Makah have a world class museum in Neah Bay which houses the largest and most complete collection of traditional whaling implements in North America. The collection came from an archaeological site at Ozette, a former village of the Makah and the setting for my story. The Quinaults are avid canoe makers and this summer will celebrate a gathering of indigenous canoe makers from all over the Pacific. When I needed information I had primary sources aplenty.
But in the end I think the research its self was not enough. I didn’t start to really get a feel for my characters inner life until I started to take an interest in my own Irish heritage. Knowing how much my Quinault students loved their own traditional stories I made a point of reading my own children Irish fairytales and playing Irish music. They’ve gone on to become interested in Irish history and two of them have become accomplished Irish dancers. imagesI remember a conversation I had several years ago with an Irish harper. He said that Queen Elizabeth, famous for her patronage of the arts and Shakespeare, had loved Irish music and kept a Celtic harper in her court. But she also hated and feared the Irish and knew how highly they regarded their harper poets. So she sent out an order to burn every harp and hang every harper as a means to crush Irish culture. And it nearly worked. Between active political repression and famine and epidemics, there were less than a dozen living harpers 200 years ago. But the Irish made a concerted effort at last to save their indigenous music, art, dance, and literature, and resist the dominance of British culture. So my children know when they dance the St. Patrick’s Day set or The Blackbird, that they are dancing steps hundreds of years old. They know the steps were not written down for fear of prison or even hanging, but were passed from one dancer to another. It is a one-of-a-kind feeling to perform in public an art form that somebody in your ancestry risked their life and livelihood to save for you. I feel it every time I play one of the traditional jigs or hornpipes on my violin. And once I understood that about my own heritage, I had the insight I needed to understand my character Pearl Carver’s struggle to hold on to her culture in the face of discrimination, economic pressure and a changing environment. Empathy in the end made the biggest difference. 
So don’t think I necessarily have the right to write any story about any culture, but I know for certain that I have the right to tell this one. And perhaps that is the answer. If authors are being honest in their craft, their own connection, research, and personal insight will tell them if the story is theirs to tell.
Written in Stone goes on sale this Tuesday. There’s lots of information about it on my website. I’ve put together a board of related images here on Pinterest. And there are two book giveaways going on right now at Literary Rambles and The Styling Librarian, so stop by there and put your name in the hat if you are interested. And if you get a chance stop by your library and local bookstore and encourage them to carry books with characters that reflect the diversity of cultures your children attend school with every day.
9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Jenn Genn  •  Jun 24, 2013 @11:32 am

    Great post! I’m interested in this too–and I think being respectful, open-hearted and open-minded make all the difference. I’m looking forward to your book!

  2. Kate Barsotti  •  Jun 24, 2013 @12:04 pm

    It’s a bit of a mine field when white authors write about other cultures and ethnicities, especially if we miss something–but if we don’t try, that doesn’t say much for us, either, because we may have stories kids want to read. We may have to decide what risks to take and what criticism to bear, to being too cautious or not courageous enough. It can be hard to write knowing you are going to end up in the crosshairs.

  3. Rosanne Parry  •  Jun 24, 2013 @6:07 pm

    Hi Jen, Yes, open-minded and open-hearted while not the entire answer are at least a start.

    Kate, although its true that writing outside of your own culture can feel like “stepping into the crosshairs”, I’ve also found very generous response when I’ve gone looking for cultural information. Also the more stories out in the world with non-white characters, the less weight each of them has to carry.

  4. Toby Langen  •  Jun 25, 2013 @12:24 pm

    I am a great admirer of Heart of a Shepherd, so I was interested to see that you have undertaken the cross-cultural risks of writing about a Native culture. I was very disappointed in a recent book about a generic whaling people on the Northwest Coast that was written by a very fine Native author who is not from the Northwest. It seems that even being Native is no guarantee of success in this kind of task. I absolutely agree with you that the best way to get more and better books about tribal life is to encourage a generation of tribal writers for children. I have passed on this article to two aspirig writers in our native language program at Tulalip, and we look forward to reading and talking about Written in Stone.

  5. Angela Cervantes  •  Jun 25, 2013 @4:54 pm

    Thank you for a wonderful post, as a Latina, avid reader and debut middle grade author (my book comes out by Scholastic this Aug. 2013!!) this is an issue very close to my heart. Thanks for the great discussion!

  6. Rosanne Parry  •  Jun 26, 2013 @12:40 am

    Angela, you simply must brag a little about your book! A title at least so I know what to look for.

    And Toby, you bring up a really great point. Just being a member of a race doesn’t make you an expert about every other person of your race. And The tribes of the Northwest have a very different history than most other tribes in the continental US. The west wasn’t really settled until the 1850s which is a far cry from the first contact eastern tribes had in the 1500s. And many live on their ancestral lands. Most NW tribes were wealthier and less nomadic than others. Most did not engage in combat against the US army. Though epidemics were common in the NW, outright massacres were few. All of which has a huge impact on their culture through the years.

    I would love to be in touch with your aspiring writers in Tulalip. In fact I plan to be in the area for school and bookstore visits in the fall. Perhaps we could arrange a meeting!

  7. Tricia Springstubb  •  Jun 26, 2013 @11:04 am

    This is a very thoughtful post about something at the heart of all good literature–empathy. Reading and writing always give us the chance to walk in someone else’s shoes–and Rosanne, you’ve met that challenge head on and heart full!

  8. Natalie Dias Lorenzi  •  Jun 30, 2013 @3:02 am

    Rosanne, Having read and loved HEART OF A SHEPHERD, I’m looking forward to reading your newest book. I, too, have addressed this topic of writing outside of one’s culture–my middle grade novel, FLYING THE DRAGON, has Japanese and Japanese-American characters, and I am neither. Although I lived in Japan for two years, my experiences were nowhere near adequate to write a novel, so I had to do extensive research, like you mentioned. But starting with a connection, like you mentioned, was what worked for me; that, and trusting that there was a story to tell. Thanks for this thoughtful post!

  9. Toby Langen  •  Jul 29, 2013 @10:42 am

    Hello, Rosanne,
    This is a reply to your reply to me a while ago. I wanted to have a member of our staff preview the book before we started had the staff members read it. She has been on vacation and has now read the book and loved it. We will be buying copies for the group — not sure how many will be in it. This is a group of teachers, who also develop curriculum, and one is a writer who would like to meet you. I will keep in contact with you and let you know how the group goes. They will be conducting a summer language camp until the middle of August, so the reading will not start untiil after that. I wish there were a way to forward to you the comments of our pre-reader.
    More later,
    Toby