Category Archives: Publishing & Promotion

Middle-Grade Novels featuring South Asian Characters

As a writer of South Asian origin, I am always looking out for books that feature South Asian or middle-eastern characters. I interact with many middle-grade readers of South Asian descent in grades 4-8, so these books are of high interest. This post is about celebrating and sharing such books that were released in 2017 and also seeking out ways to find them.

Firstly, what makes a South Asian character? This means a book that features a character whose culture, people or heritage is portrayed from the southern region of the Asian continent. The countries and islands that make up South Asia are Tibet, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and Sri Lanka.

Secondly, how many such books are out there? The CCBC (Cooperative Children’s Book Center School of Education, University of Madison-Wisconsin) receives the majority of new U.S. trade books for children and teens each year, and provides information on the number of children’s books by and about people of color.  According to the 2016 statistics from CCBC, out of 3400 books that they received, 239 of them were by and about Asian Pacifics or Asian Pacific Americans. While it is fantastic that the number of diverse books is increasing by the year, the need for representation is still high.

Thirdly, what can we do to increase the visibility of these books? Ideally, all types of diverse books should be read and enjoyed by everyone. Therefore, here are some suggestions that are not limited to middle-grade readers of South Asian descent.

  1. Show up at diverse author events and buy the books.
  2. Read and share your views about these books with your family, friends, and on social media.
  3. Request or order the books for your schools and local libraries.
  4. Donate your time or money to organizations like We Need Diverse Books that work tirelessly to promote diverse literature.
  5. Add these books to the required reading lists so it helps kids recognize and celebrate different cultures.

With that said, here are some compelling 2017 novel recommendations, featuring South Asian characters and what the authors have to say about the stories:

Ahimsa by Supriya Kelkar : In her interview for NBC, Kelkar talked about the meaning of Ahimsa and the motivation behind writing the novel. She said, “I didn’t think much about activism when I was I child. I used to write letters to companies protesting things sometimes, but it wasn’t until much later that I learned that writing can be used for speaking up and speaking out. Ahimsa was a principle of nonviolence at a time when conflicts were generally solved through war. This was the first time this unique idea helped create a country. You don’t need to own a weapon to do this. It is within you.”

Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan : Hena wrote about her inspiration for the book in her interview with Cynsations. She said, “I wanted to write a story with a protagonist who was an “every girl” who happened to be an American Muslim. I hoped that readers of all backgrounds would be able to relate to her as much as I did to the characters I had grown up reading and loving—none of who had resembled me in any way. “

 

 

Finding Mighty by Sheela Chari : Mixed-Up Files did an interview with Sheela Chari. Sheela talked about the interracial friendship in the novel. According to Sheela, the main character “Myla was more like her as a young person – a highly observant girl who felt largely unnoticed by the world.” She said, “Because she was so much like me, it made sense to make her Indian-American, with a family and lifestyle similar to my own. “

 

 

Karma Khullar’s Mustache by Kristi Wientge : Kristi Wientge talked about why it was important for her to highlight her culture in the story at Yayomg. Kristy said, “I love highlighting things we think are SO different, but, in fact, are so, so similar to our “normal.” I’ve traveled and lived in China and England and now in Singapore and without fail, people from each place have a picture of what America is and what Americans are like and they seem to be blown away that I don’t fit neatly into any of those ideas and that I’m very much like they are.”

Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani: Nidhi Chanani talked about her story, her art, and activism in an interview with the Horn Book. According to Nidhi, “There are many communities that are underrepresented within books and art. It creates a cycle of prejudice and isolation. Art and books that showcase underrepresented identities can shift our perceptions of difference, of ourselves, and inspire people to make more inclusive art.”

 

Rise of the Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste: This story features a South Asian Character as the best friend to the main character. Tracey Baptiste talked to Sheri Larsen of Mixed-Up Files about how we can make a difference in the lives of middle schoolers. Tracy said that “Books that accurately represent different cultures and different stories are crucial now so that there isn’t an ingrained sense of “otherness” about people who don’t look the same, or who live differently.”

 

Step Up To The Plate, Maria Singh by Uma Krishnaswami: In her interview with Lee and Low, Uma Krishnaswami said that readers of this story “will see that community and caring cross boundaries of language and race. That friendship is a better choice than hatred and suspicion. I hope they will see that playing ball can be competitive but it can also be a way to come together and heal divisions.”

 

 

The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi: Karuna talked to Hena Khan about what it means to have this book out, in terms of inclusion. In her interview for the School Library Journal, Karuna said, “It’s incredible to look back now and realize that I am actually an author, just like the other women of color authors. I always looked up to and dreamed about emulating with my words. I definitely wouldn’t have imagined it being with a book that represents the never-heard voice of Bangladeshi Americans.”

 

Which books on the list are you excited about reading? Please do share in the comments below.

Kersten Hamilton and the Book of Half a Lifetime

I’m very pleased today to feature a long time friend of mine.

Kersten and I have critiqued each other’s work, we’ve gone on writing retreats together, attended conferences, and enjoyed group meet-ups with other local authors over the years. Kersten Hamilton is an incredibly talented writer, deep thinker, and a selfless, giving person.

Here at From the Mixed up Files, we’re excited to show off the gorgeous cover for her middle-grade novel, DAYS OF THE DEAD, which will launch into the world this coming summer.

Enjoy a little bit about Kersten’s inspiration and an excerpt from the novel.

~Kimberley Griffiths Little, one of your MUF’s authors and bloggers~

From Kersten Hamilton:

“When I first saw the art created by Merce Lopez  for the cover of Days of the Dead I wanted to shout, “LOOK AT THIS! IT IS THE BEST COVER EVER!!!” because Merce had captured the magic and mystery at the heart of my story. Having a cover means the book is real! It is almost here!

Some books take half a lifetime to write. Days of the Dead is one of those books. I can’t remember when the story started to grow in me. When I was six, and my mother left? When I was a teen sitting in a chill of a lava tube, breathing in darkness so deep it was almost alive?  The day my heart broke so badly I thought I would die. I know the roots of this story reach back through that day. But the story took years of drafts and re-writes to form.

Slowly, it settled into a time: the Days of the Dead, when the border separating the living from the dead grows thin.  And a place, Puerta de la Luna, where strange things happen. Things that science isn’t big enough to explain. And a girl, Glorieta Magdalena Davis y Espinosa, whose choices would destroy her family – and whose courage would make it whole again.

Days of the Dead will be coming from Sky Pony Press this August of 2018, but I can’t wait one minute longer to introduce Glorieta. I hope she will find a lot of friends and help them pick themselves back up when they have made a terrible mistake.”

LOOK AT THIS STUNNING COVER!

And here’s Glorieta in her own words:

“Every bowl of Alpha-Bits starts out with hundreds of words. But the power is in the last spoonful.

“Dios mio, Magdalena!” Mamá’d said as she’d pointed to my spoon, “Your spoon says ‘libros’. Books!’ Now, you choose. If you swallow it down, then you will learn about books!” I swallowed it, and that year I’d been the first kid in class who learned to read. I learned about big books, thick books, their smell, their feel, the letters gathering into words and the words into stories. Mamá and I read together every night, in English and in español, Spanish.

In third grade I’d had to find the word in my Alpha-Bits myself. I used an extra big spoon, one that could fit all of the letters of mother, if Mamá wasn’t enough. Or even Mamá, come home.

The word had been hoggs. I’d known that was too many ‘gees’ for a real word. I’d swallowed it anyway, and cried because I thought my Mamá’s magic had gone away with her.

Then, one month into the school year, a new editor for the Epoch Rattler came to my school to interview me about a poem I’d written for the paper. His name was Hogg. That hadn’t made me feel any better. You can’t knock off one letter and say it’s close enough. That’s not magic. It’s cheating.

But just after Christmas my teacher Miss Dotson, who’d met Mr. Herbert Hogg the day he interviewed me, married him and became Mrs. Hogg. Two Hoggs. Pieces fitting together. The magic worked.

I shook the box, and something rattled inside.

I got a bowl, and turned the box upside down. Letter pieces and cereal powder rained out. I poured in some milk, and three perfect letters bobbed to the surface.

“Are you looking for a word in your Alpha-Bits? Seriously?” Lilith was leaning over my shoulder.

“Go away.”

Lilith laughed. As she walked across the room and picked up the phone again, one more letter struggled to the surface of the sludge. I stared at the bowl. It couldn’t be right.

I’d wanted the magic to help me keep my promise to Mamá. I hadn’t wanted this.

Now you choose, Glorieta…

“We’re on hold, B,” Lilith said into the phone. “I’ve got to work out something with my stupid step-tard first. See you at school.”

Lilith saw me still staring at the bowl and leaned over to see what I was looking at.

“O.D.I.O.?” She laughed. “That isn’t even a word, loser.”

It was a word. Lilith just didn’t know it because she couldn’t speak español.

You choose, Glorieta.

If it had been about anyone else, it would have been wrong. But I knew it wasn’t about anyone else. It was about Lilith. Somehow she had gotten in where she didn’t belong and messed everything up. Even the magic.

I could feel her breathing on the back of my neck as I scooped the word onto my spoon and lifted it to my mouth. I would learn it like I’d learned to read, learn the pieces and the parts and how they fit together and it would keep Lilith away from me.

Lilith took a step back, and I couldn’t feel her breath anymore. It was working already.

Shivers raced up my spine as I chewed.

Odio. Hate.

My magic word for the sixth grade.”

Thank you for letting me share, Mixed-Up Files!

Kersten Hamilton

Website: www.kerstenhamilton.com

Pre-order DAYS OF THE DEAD

Email: Kersten@kerstenhamilton.com

Digging Deep into History: Sources for Historical Research

I love getting random notifications from our county library system. Yesterday’s was an invitation to a free lecture on the local impact of the 1918 Spanish Influenza epidemic. My writer’s wheels started turning right away and I added the event to the calendar. Though I have no plans to start drafting a flu epidemic middle grade novel anytime soon, I think it’s safe to say that the more your writer-head knows about a historical time period–and history in general–the more inclined (read: less terrified) you become toward actually drafting a historical.

Historical research can be daunting, even for lovers of history, even for lovers of research and research paper writing. We have so much info available to us now…and yet, sometimes a seemingly easy answer eludes us. And then there’s the very real trust issues we writers have with the online world, and justifiably so; though the internet has certainly made it easier to quickly access reading material, it has also made it crucially necessary to question, check and double check, confirm and re-confirm sources. Random Googling can be appropriate for a brief overview of a historical event, person, or time period in MG historical writing; for example, clicking around for short, valid articles is great when you are still in the throes of a new crazy idea and are exploring the topic to gauge your own interest in it. The question “Is this something I want to learn more about?” is just as important as “Is this idea any ‘good’ for an MG novel?” at this stage of the game, and quick search engine results can help you start to answer these basic questions.

But once you’ve decided to dig in and try your hand at a new historical middle grade, to what types of resources do you turn?

I thought I’d share here some of the more interesting and trusted sources of historical info I’ve used in recent years. This is, of course, just to get your own wheels turning, the way that library notification did mine, and to hopefully start some comments from you all with other source ideas to inspire our whole community here at The Mixed-Up Files.

Go local:

Your local library might surprise you, and have a great resource on hand all about the preparations for a medieval feast, or The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, or the first-ever passenger rail car (England, 1825). If your own library doesn’t, search your county or statewide library system, and enjoy the benefits of interlibrary loan (free, real books, delivered to your local library, just for you!).

Local museums, local historical societies, local college and university libraries. Librarians, docents, and historical society volunteers share your passion for info and history, and chances are, they will be eager to help a writer towards historical accuracy.

Go online:

Don’t forget to try your public, state, or university library’s online aggregated content databases of articles and reference books. As a card-holding library patron, you should have access to these databases, often a mix of academic and popular culture resources. For example, my town library is part of Pennsylvania’s electronic library system (called PowerLibrary), which I can access from my home computer by inputting the patron number on my library card. This morning I found a recent Smithsonian article through PowerLibrary perfect for my WIP.

Primary source documents, like digitized newspapers, magazines, and periodicals—some from centuries ago–are amazing pieces of actual history that convey the aesthetics, attitudes, and atmosphere of the time period as well as info.

Online digital libraries. Digitized libraries can be huge aggregates of centuries’ worth of books and serials, many of them full-text… or they can be an individual’s personal web site of images of the local ferry service’s crossing schedules from 1955. And depending on your book idea, either of these or any in between might be equally helpful.  Try your luck with Hathi Trust Digital Library for out-of-print books and resources, Project Gutenberg for works in the public domain, or this site…when you have a few hours free:   http://oedb.org/ilibrarian/250-plus-killer-digital-libraries-and-archives/ I liked how these were organized by state (alphabetically) with multi-state resources listed at the end.

Photographs, of course. I like the search results I get (and the amount of info for citations) from the Photo Archive at the Getty Institute: http://www.getty.edu/research/tools/photo/

Here, for inspiration, are Life magazine historical photos by decade hosted by Google: http://images.google.com/hosted/life

Don’t forget the daily details in all your hard-core historical info. Food, footwear, furniture…depending on your setting, a sales resource like a digitized Sears and Roebuck catalog might be helpful (not to mention fascinating). Today I looked at this  one on Hathi from 1918. Middle-grade-aged girls’ clothes start on the third page, with prices and descriptions.

Grocery store ads with prices, movie posters, war propaganda literature…all telling signs of the times. From a special collections library at Emory University, here’s a 1947  ad for women’s high heels for $5.99 (!!).  How interesting that the ad utilizes the fun, adventurous lifestyle of circus performers to catch the consumer’s attention.

Specific to American history research, try the National Archives (great educator section here, by the way!): https://www.archives.gov/  and the site of the American Antiquarian Society: http://www.americanantiquarian.org/  (for info and primary sources through 1876).

The Library of Congress has an abundance of free reference materials, including an International Collections section as well an American Folklife Center: http://www.loc.gov/rr/ .

Books on historical topics that are especially cool for writers:

The Writer’s Guide to… Series. The Wild West, Prohibition through WWII, the 1800’s, Colonial America, Renaissance England, and more.

If you have kids, you probably know the DK Eyewitness series of books. Written for elementary through middle graders as visual encyclopedias, these books present great overviews on a wealth of topics and time periods. They contain the perfect amount of info if you are just getting started on a research topic—enough to catch your interest and start notetaking, but not so much as to overwhelm.

An illustrated costume history text. You can page through possibilities at bookstores on university campuses with theatre departments, or try a book like What People Wore: 1,800 Illustrations from Ancient Times to the Early Twentieth Century by Douglas Gorsline.

I hope you found this to be a fun and possibilities-ripe list!  Please chime in with comments on what creative and helpful sources you’ve used in the past. Thanks for reading and good luck with your future research!