Previous month:
April 2006
Next month:
June 2006

Girls: An Anthology

On Sunday the New York Times' Style section said that anthologies are hot. Hotter than memoirs. In fact, they are the new memoir. I, for one, am glad that they are hot because Global City Press has just re-issued Girls: An Anthology, which includes a short story of mine, "Red and Yellow, Black and White." (I say "a short story of mine" as if I've had so many published, but that is the only one that has seen print. Yet.) Some of the selections are familiar works by people like Grace Paley and Tillie Olsen, while others were newer pieces when the anthology was originally printed in 1997. Girls is where I first read Carolyn Ferrell, who is a wonderful writer. Do look for her collection of stories, Don't Erase Me.

Global City also publishes a literary magazine, and there's a reading to celebrate the new issue ("Simple Virtues") on Wednesday, June 14, at the Community Bookstore, in Brooklyn's Park Slope.


Over at her blog Mother Reader issues a challenge for June 16-18 in which one reads and reviews as many kids' books as one can in a 48-hour time period. Go to her site for all the details. The books need to be for middle-grade and older. I plan to join the fun, although I'm keeping my goal modest.

Guest Columnist Pooja Makhijani

South Asian Stories to Tell
A Guest Column by Pooja Makhijani

Each spring, the South Asian Woman's Creative Collective (better known by the saucy acronym, SAWCC), a New York City-based grassroots arts organization of which I am active member, holds their annual literary festival. This year, with the support of Marymount Manhattan College, SAWCC staged their fourth festival, Mixed Messages, from May 19 to 21, 2006. Mixed Messages was SAWCC's largest literary festival and featured more than 35 writers and artists. As a member of the planning committee for the festival, I selfishly organized and moderated a panel on South Asian literature for children and young adults. I knew I wasn't the only one who noticed a burst of kid lit for and about contemporary South Asian children and teens. In fact, Mixed Messages was the third recent South Asian literary conference to highlight children's literature after SALTAF 2005 (Washington D.C., October 2005) and Kriti (Chicago, November 2005).

My panel at Mixed Messages featured novelist/journalist/professor Marina Budhos, writer-illustrator Ruth Jeyaveeran, blogging novelist Mitali Perkins, and editor Monika Jain.

So, before I tell you all about the discussion, I want to define an oft-confused, oft-misunderstood term. South Asia is an all-encompassing term for the seven countries of the Indian Subcontinent that share a common history and culture. The South Asian Journalists' Association—which also has a spiffy acronym, SAJA—includes Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka among those countries.

The panel started off with a short reading. Ms. Budhos read from her much-acclaimed novel, Ask Me No Questions. Ms. Perkins read from her forthcoming chick-lity young adult novel tentatively titled First Daughter: My Extreme American Makeover. Ms. Jeyaveeran bravely read from a work-in-progress—a picture book featuring a dancing snake named Asha. (Asha had a bit part in Ms. Jeyaveeran's hilarious debut, The Road To Mumbai.) Ms. Jain spent a few minutes talking about Kahani. (More about Kahani shortly.) And I read from my essay, "The First Time," which I consider my first contribution to the children's literature community.

After the very diverse reading, the discussion and question and answer session touched on several topics, from the books that informed the panelists' identities growing up (anything by Enid Blyton) to the craft of writing for young readers ("Ruth, which comes first: the pictures or the text?").

I also asked our panelists whether they thought the proliferation of South Asian children's literature was just a passing trend.

"Are we just "hot" right now?" I asked. "Like all other things South Asian—yoga, henna "tattoos", clothes?"

"No, not at all," they uniformly responded.

"We have lots of stories to tell," Ms. Budhos said. "This is just the beginning."    

However, we also all agreed that while South Asian children's and YA literature is on the rise, such books with boy protagonists are still quite rare. When pressed by an audience member as to why "boy books" are even necessary, Ms. Perkins remarked that she finds it difficult to imagine a boy holding up her forthcoming middle-grade novel, Rickshaw Girl in his school or library for everyone to see.

There was much interest in Kahani, a two-year-old South Asian literary magazine for children based in Boston. Ms. Jain highlighted Kahani's diaspora issue which featured South Asian writers and illustrators from Trinidad, Morocco, and Singapore and said she would love to showcase more work from around the world. (Time for another definition: the South Asian diaspora refers to communities of South Asians who emigrated from the Subcontinent. According to SAJA, there are large diasporic communities in Fiji, Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago, Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom. And there are more than 2 million South Asians in the United States.) 

While many of our attendees were familiar with current children's literature (South Asian or otherwise), many were not. They were pleasantly surprised by what is "out there." Dr. Amardeep Singh commented both at the event and on his blog that he was impressed by Ask Me No Questions. He said it was refreshing to see a work of young adult fiction that made a serious political point about the experience of South Asian immigrants in the United States.

The afternoon ended with reading recommendations by our panelists for those who were new to the world of children's literature. This long list included the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman, A Step from Heaven by An Na, and anything by Chris Raschka.

Pooja Makhijani is the editor of Under Her Skin: How Girls Experience Race in America, an anthology of essays that explores the complex ways in which race shapes American lives and families. Her first picture book, Mama's Saris, is forthcoming. She maintains a frequently-updated online bibliography of South Asian youth literature.

Editor's note: Thank you for the terrific report, Pooja! I am thrilled to include it here at Chicken Spaghetti.

What We're Reading 5/29

I've rounded up some books that my son and I have been reading lately. Some I read aloud,  and others we switch off reading a page at a time. Some he may be reading by himself at bedtime.  All of these are books that he really enjoys, so consider them kid-tested.

Cyclops. Leonard Everett Fisher's picture book tells the story of Odysseus and the one-eyed monster in a way six year olds can understand. If you want a gentle introduction to Greek mythology, this is, uh, not it. Cyclops not only eats some of the Odysseus's men, he also gets a big spear right in the eye. I don't want to say that Junior loved it because then you'll worry. So, I won't. But he did.

John Philip Duck, by Patricia Polacco. A fictionalized account of how there came to be ducks in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel in Memphis. Warm and tenderhearted, as many of this author's picture  books are. Polacco's works have  tremendous kid appeal. Meteor, also by Polacco, chronicles a small town's excitement when a meteor lands in the author's grandparents' yard.

Fluffy's Silly Summer, by Kate McMullan. A feisty classroom guinea pig stars in this volume from a series of beginning readers. Goofy hijinks ensue, and if you're a homeschooler, this one is great because it's not set in the classroom. (I get tired of books set in the classroom, anyway—unless it's Fox at School, also a beginning reader.) Fluffy makes an appealing hero, and McMullan's humor and high-interest story lines are bonuses. I'd say the reading level  is the "almost but not quite ready for chapter book" stage.

The Titanic, by Judy Donnelly.  Back in April, the Book Moot blog offered a great post about Titanic-related books, and I nominate this advanced beginning reader for the list. I was surprised at the suspense and emotion conveyed with a fairly simple vocabulary and sentence structure. Brava, Judy Donnelly!

Jellies and Bee-bim Bop! About jellyfish (nonfiction, cool photos) and tasty Korean food (picture book), respectively. See my reviews of both at The Edge of the Forest. Bee-bim Bop! even comes with a recipe for the tasty rice dish of the title. Another picture book with a recipe at the end is Patricia Polacco's Thunder Cake, about a girl whose grandma helps her overcome some fears.

Armadillo Rodeo, by Jan Brett. Recommended by the National Education Association in its State by State Booklist, Brett's picture book is set in a Texas of cowboy boots 'n' square dances. (I'd love to hear about other picture-book representations of the Lone Star State if readers have suggestions.)   The beauty of Brett's dense illustrations always wows me.  How often are armadillos depicted with such care? (Thank you to the blog Twice Bloomed Wisteria for highlighting the NEA list.)

Duck & Goose, by Tad Hills. In a display of very sibling-like qualities, the adorable title characters squabble over what they think is an egg, and then decide to hatch it together. This would be wonderful for a preschool classroom; the reader is always one step ahead of  Duck and Goose. (That's not an egg. It's a...well, you'll have to read the book.) Gorgeous spring colors predominate the illustrations.

San Francisco's Summer Reading

SF Gate, the online branch of the San Francisco Chronicle, features lots of reviews of children's books for Sunday, May 28th. One of them is the excellent Sky Boys, Deborah Hopkinson's story of the construction of the Empire State Building. Other reviews center on California-related reads, including the John Muir biography that blogger Chris Barton cited last week. Beginning chapter books   get a nod; Mercy Watson Goes for a Ride and especially its author, Kate DiCamillo, receive high praise. You'll also find science fiction, local Bay area authors, and more.

Comics Classic

While remembering "Amar Chitra Katha," an old Indian comic book series, Sepia Mutiny's Neeraja Viswanathan (no relation to you know who) calls for a good comics version of the Mahabharatha. I once had a chance to attend a nine-hour Mahabharatha play in Brooklyn, but chickened out at the last minute. A comic book, though? That I could handle.

Props to Mitali Perkins for mentioning the group blog Sepia Mutiny.

Update: thanks to a suggestion from Pooja Makhijani in the comments, I found the ACK Mahabharatha at a library a few towns away, and it's available by interlibrary loan. Amazing.

Poetry Friday: Julia Donaldson

Reading around author Julia Donaldson's site yesterday, I found a good poem for Poetry Friday. Donaldson, who used to create songs for children's TV, says that she finds it hard to write in anything but verse. So for Poetry Friday, I direct you again to her site for "A Day in My Life," a humorous take on the creative process. It begins,     

Tea in bed. Second cup.
Dislodge cats. Get up.
Son to school. Spouse to work.
Sit at desk – mustn’t shirk.

For the rest of Donaldson's poem, click here. (Scroll down on that page.) "Gruffalo," which the Glasgow-based writer mentions in the poem, is the name of her most popular children's book.

Other poetry offerings today include a piece about Dylan Thomas's "Fern Hill," at Here in the Bonny Glen; a thumbs-up review of Diane Siebert and Stephen T. Johnson's Tour America: A Journey Through Poems and Art, at Bartography; "Paul Revere's Ride" and a link to a cool poetry site, at Jen Robinson's Book Page; a link to a poetry controversy, at Bookshelves of Doom (isn't that a great blog name?); a mention of a new illustrated book of work by e.e. cummings, at Book Buds;  Gerard Manley Hopkins's "Spring," at Scholar's Blog; "Casey at the Bat" and some Casey picture books, at A Chair, A Fireplace and A Tea Cozy; and a charming picture book, Once Upon a Tide, considered, at Big A little a. Also, Slayground quotes a poetic YA novel  by David Levithan, and  Mother Reader pens an "Ode to Mo" (in Fibonacci form, no less). A poem is a brook? See The Simple and the OrdinaryFarm School has Emily Dickinson on the mind,  while Mungo's Mathoms is thinking Yeats.

Sam, Sid, and Biscuit

I've been reading Sid and Sam and a few other books with some young friends.  A few of my beginning-reader pals breeze right through Nola Buck's tale of friendship, while others find it slow going. Everybody always wants to read this one, though, perhaps because at 32 pages,  it's a longer book.  Sid and Sam are buddies, and one of them sings too long. That's the extent of the plot, but readers have to distinguish sing, sang, song, so,  soon, long, along, not to mention Sam and Sid. It can be a little tricky. (I keep wanting to say "She sells seashells...") I also see that trying hard to get the words just right makes understanding even a simple story (see, now I'm talking in s's, too) a challenge. Alyssa Satin Capucilli's Biscuit is also popular, with many phrases repeating (like "Woof! Woof!"); the children enjoy the dog Biscuit's delay tactics before bedtime and, at least to my ears, the words don't sound like so much of a puzzle. Both of these books, though, make for good reading practice.