Tag Archives: MG

Dia!

I had the opportunity to attend the 33rd annual Virginia Hamilton Conference at Kent State University in early April.  The event is the longest-running event focusing entirely on multicultural literature for children. One of the highlights of the program is the awarding of the Virginia Hamilton Literary Award. This year’s honoree is Pat Mora, author of over forty books for children, teens and young adults.

Pat is also the founder of El día de los niños/El día de los libros, (Children’s Day/Book Day), or simply Dia.

I must admit, that despite being directly involved in children’s literature for nearly twenty years as both children’s book festival founder (www.clairesday.org) and children’s book author, I knew nothing about Dia.

So, what is Dia? And what can we do as writers of children’s literature to participate and promote the initiative?

Dia’s roots began in 1925 at the first World Conference for the Well Being of Children in Geneva, Switzerland. Children’s Day was established after the conference, intended to bring attention to children’s issues. Many countries, including the Soviet Union, encouraged the publication of children’s books.

The Parade of the Red Army, Soviet Union, 1931.

In 1996, Pat Mora proposed connecting the celebration of children with literacy. The following year her concept was endorsed by REFORMA, the National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-Speaking. The Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) is now the home to Dia.

Dia is intended to be a daily commitment to connecting children and families to diverse books, languages and cultures. April 30th is designated as the culmination of the year-long celebrations.

Libraries across the United States celebrate Dia with book clubs, bilingual story times, and, (yay!) guest appearances by children’s book authors and illustrators.

ALSC has a website, where book suggestions, toolkits and great resources can be downloaded to help with a Dia Celebration. Check it out: www.dia.ala.org

The website has a locator tab to find a Dia event near you: http://cs.ala.org/websurvey/alsc/dia/map.cfm

Pat offered in her comments to the audience at Kent State University that we in Ohio were not doing enough to spread the mission of Dia. There is only one event listed in the national registry in my home state. Pat is right. We can do more.

My hope is to somehow bring together a collaborative effort to celebrate Dia with our partner library system, the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, and our Claire’s Day event. Stay Tuned.

What will you do to support this important mission of connecting children with books? Perhaps you could read of one of your works at your local library. Or, maybe volunteer to share multicultural books with children at your nearby school. Or, even just share the Dia website with your local school and/or library.

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Book Fiesta, written by Pat Mora, illustrated by Rafael Lopez.

 

Happy Endings

I’ve read some sad middle-grade books lately.

I mean sad.  Books about war, separation, poverty, judging, death.

It’s no secret that today’s middle-grade books tackle some serious topics, that authors aren’t afraid to stare down the very same monsters our readers face every day. After all, if children must be brave enough to travel life’s imperfect road, we must be brave enough to write about their journeys.

I used to believe that sad subjects were okay in middle-grade literature as long as there were happy endings. You know, all’s well that ends well.

But some of the books I’ve read lately didn’t have happy endings. And, since some of the books I’m going to talk about are very new, I won’t say any more than that in an effort to avoid spoiling anyone’s reading experience.

Just last week, I finished Lauren Wolk’s Wolf Hollow.

 wolf hollow

Not since William March’s The Bad Seed have I met a child antagonist as deceptive and wrong as Betty Glengarry.  Like anyone caught in the web of a narcissist’s lies, the narrator Annabelle can do little to break free of Betty’s ever-worsening cruelty. As I read, I found myself pleading for justice, fairness, and for Annabelle and others to prevail. But literature – and life – doesn’t always deliver justice and fairness and good over evil.

I also recently finished Pax by Sara Pennypacker.

pax

Okay, let’s talk sad. The book was passed along to me by an author friend I was visiting in Kansas City. I started reading in the airport and started crying on page six. Six. The heartbreaking separation of a boy and his pet  (Pax is a lovable and loving cross between man’s best friend and the most adorable house cat you can imagine  – but he’s a fox) at the very beginning was enough to make any reader believe that redemption would eventually come at the end. But literature – and life – does not always offer redemption.

So, does that mean I didn’t like these books? Or that I didn’t like their endings?

Not at all.  There’s more to a “happy” ending than joy. More than joy, I believe an ending must offer hope. And it must ring true.

Above all, it must ring true.

I can clearly remember having detailed discussions with my editor Claudia Gabel (then with Delacorte Press, now with Katherine Tegan Books) as we worked out the ending of my first middle-grade novel, The Beef Princess of Practical County. It’s a story about Libby, who raises cattle to show at the county fair. In the end, Libby’s beloved steer boards a livestock trailer for the slaughter house. It’s not the hoped-for Charlotte’s Web ending. But it has all the truth in it of a Midwest farmer’s daughter’s experience growing up on a cattle ranch. It rings true.

I promised not to talk about the endings of Wolf Hollow and Pax, so I won’t – except to say that both endings ring true.

And when we, as authors, pledge to traverse life’s imperfect road with our readers, offering truth is – in the end – the best that we can do.

Michelle Houts has written four books for middle-grade readers.  Her books have garnered an International Reading Association Award, Junior Library Guild selection, and inclusion on the Bank Street Best Books of 2014 List. She’s currently completing the first three books in a new science-minded series for younger readers, titled Lucy’s Lab (2017, Sky Pony Press).