Monthly Archives: October 2011

November’s New Books

Every month we feature all the new middle grade and young adult releases that include diversity. We missed a couple of titles in October (Fox and Phoenix and Caleb’s Wars), so we’ve added them to this month’s list, bringing us to two middle grade and six young adult titles.

By “diversity” we mean: (1) main characters or major secondary characters (e.g., a love interest or best friend kind of character) who are of color or are LGBT; or (2) written by a person of color or LGBT author. Unfortunately due to time constraints we are unable to include each book’s summary, but we encourage you to click on the book covers to be taken to Indie Bound, where you can read a description of the book.

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Middle Grade

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Young Adult

Did we miss any new books? Tell us in the comments!

Reading Challenge Winners & San Diego!

Thank you to everyone who entered the Diversify Your Reading Challenge. It was a pleasure to read your entries and see how reading has directly affected so many of you in such positive ways.

After careful consideration, we are excited to announce the winners of the Diversify Your Reading Challenge!

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Library Challenge

The winning library is …

The Howard County Library System in Columbia, Maryland!

Here’s how librarian John Jewitt described what they did:

We produced a sign for a display in the teen section at each of our six branches, and then asked the teen specialist at each branch to create and maintain a display that reflected the diversity in our community. Our goal was to enable all of our teen readers to see themselves represented in our collection, and also to encourage teen readers to develop an inclusive and open concept of their community.

And check out their awesome displays:

Congratulations, Howard County Library! You’ll be receiving all of these fantastic books to add to your collection.

But of course we couldn’t stop at just one library! We’ve decided to give an Honorable Mention to the Baxter Memorial Library in Gorham, Maine, which organized a discussion group for teens. Here’s how librarian Kathy Stevens described it:

Baxter Memorial Library and the Gorham Recreation Department’s Teen Extreme program partnered this summer for several different projects. One such project was our diversity discussion and display. The teens participated in a discussion, with the youth services librarian and identified ways that they could foster tolerance and appreciate the diversity they encounter at school and in their neighborhoods.

Here are the teens and their display:

Congratulations, Baxter Memorial Library, you’ll also be receiving a box of books for your Honorable Mention!

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Blogger/Reader Challenge

The winning blogger/reader is …

Angie Manfredi of Fat Girl Reading

Angie wrote a wonderful post, I Am a Good Liberal — Rita Williams-Garcia’s “One Crazy Summer” & Reflections on Diversity in YA, that really dug into the meat of the question we asked you to consider: how did reading these books affect you as a reader? Here’s part of what she said:

Reading One Crazy Summer did much more than just cause me to go look up Bobby Hutton and find out more about him.  (though I am grateful this book afforded me the opportunity to do that!) That’s too simple an answer to “how this book affected me as a reader.”  Bobby Hutton, One Crazy Summer, the question about what any of can do to change the country we live in and the world we’re a part of – reading this book was a reality check for a good liberal like me.  I know there’s always more for me to know, but I honestly wasn’t prepared to find it in a children’s book about the 1960s. …

It was more than a reality check: it was a reminder that the best books about “diversity” do more than fulfill check boxes in an effort to educate you.  The best books about diversity, like One Crazy Summer, get straight to your heart and your brain and open the world up to you – they make you, like Delphine,  ask questions about Bobby Hutton that are more than “So, who was this guy?” and are, instead, “What did he mean?  What can I learn from his life?  How can his life make my  life better and more meaningful?”

Congratulations, Angie! You’ll be receiving all of these fantastic books for your collection.

Because we received so many great entries in this portion of the contest, we’ve also decided to name three Honorable Mentions:

Honorable Mentions in the blogger/reader category will also receive a box of book prizes!

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Finally … We’re coming to San Diego this week!

Last but not least, just as the Diversify Your Reading Challenge has drawn to a close, our Diversity Tour is also wrapping up with one final event this week in San Diego.

Thursday, Oct. 27 at 7 p.m.
San Diego County Library Poway Branch
13137 Poway Rd.
Poway, CA 92064

Highlighting YA fantasy and science fiction with authors Holly Black, Cinda Williams Chima, Karen Healey, Malinda Lo, Cindy Pon and Greg van Eekhout

If you’re in the San Diego area, please come out and talk diversity with us one last time. We hope to see you there!

Janet Gurtler on If I Tell

Jaz, the main character in If I Tell, is biracial with a black father and a white mother. Race is a large part of Jaz’s story as she struggles in the midst of chaos to figure out exactly how she fits into the world. She’s been raised by white grandparents and has virtually no connections to her black heritage. So what made me, Snow White (minus the seven friends, fairest of them allishness and the poison apple) write about a girl struggling with her racial identity?

Like many stories in my life, it began with a boy. In my twenties there was a boy I deeply loved. He was black. We got pregnant and unfortunately, as sometimes happens, we lost the baby. Eventually we lost each other as well, but to this day I think of that child and how she may have been perceived by the world. Jaz is a much fictionalized version of her, kind of a tribute to a daughter I never had. Perhaps exceedingly personal, but in the end, honesty is at the heart of my novel.

I’ll admit to fearing that I wasn’t qualified to write about a girl struggling with racial identity. I worried (worry) about getting it wrong or coming across as patronizing or disrespectful given who I am and what I represent. In my mind though there are similarities to the fact that I’ve never been a boy, yet I wrote a book from a boy’s point of view. I’ve never been a lesbian, but a secondary character in this book is gay. Is it presumptuous to assume I can do diverse characters justice? Trite? I hope not.

I did research for the characters, trying to create authenticity. For this book I did ask for extra feedback about certain scenes from friends of color. I straight out asked another black writer what she would say to a biracial child who wasn’t familiar with her “black side.” Her comments helped to create moments in If I Tell. I had critiques from friends who are black or biracial and used their feedback and comments to shape some scenes in the book as well.

In essence, my hope is that readers, regardless of color or gender or sexuality can relate to parts of Jaz’s internal struggles as she learns to accept herself for who she is. A large piece in Jaz’s puzzle is about forgiveness, for others and for herself. When should people be forgiven and when is a relationship no longer healthy to maintain? Readers don’t always agree. Fiction doesn’t always make us feel comfortable. I hope it makes us think.

People make mistakes. Some mistakes are horrible and some mistakes are unforgivable. But does making that mistake make us bad people to the core — the end? Hopefully not. Hopefully most of us are works in progress. We’re learning and growing and adjusting to changes in the world around us. After all, isn’t that what a lot of life is ultimately about? Discovering how to accept ourselves and others for who we truly are.

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[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.diversityinya.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/101711janetgurtler.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Janet Gurtler is the author of contemporary YA novels, I’m Not Her and If I Tell, as well as a novel from Sourcebooks Fire coming out in 2012. Janet lives in Calgary, Alberta with her son and husband and a chubby Chihuahua. She does not play hockey or live in an igloo but she does love maple syrup and says “eh” a lot. Follow Janet on Twitter or Facebook or reach her through her website .[/author_info] [/author]

Interview with Stacy Whitman

Stacy Whitman is the editorial director of Tu Books, which specializes in multicultural fantasy, science fiction and mystery for children and young adults. Tu Books, an imprint of Lee & Low, just launched this fall, and I asked Stacy to tell us a bit about how Tu Books came to be and what her thoughts are on diversity in children’s and YA literature.

Malinda Lo: You launched Tu Books on your own without knowing that it would eventually be acquired by Lee & Low, a New York-based publisher. What inspired you to start a publishing company that focuses on multicultural fantasy and science fiction?

Stacy Whitman: When I was acquiring at Mirrorstone (which was an imprint of Wizards of the Coast until recently), I actively sought out diversity in the books I acquired. Later, as a freelancer, I was looking for a way to get back into acquiring, considering whether to move to New York. At my friend’s weekly anime-watching night, we were watching a show set in an ancient China-like world. I LOVED the characters, the setting, the culture, the magical-realism worldbuilding (the anime is The Story of Saiunkoku, for anyone interested). My friend mentioned it was based on a series of novels published in Japan, and I lamented that they weren’t published here in English—even if I could order them from Japan I couldn’t read them. She made what I thought was a joke: “We could start a small press and publish them here ourselves!” I said something to the effect of, “Are you nuts?” She was serious enough to want to play around with a business plan and see if it was feasible.

At the same time, a huge discussion on the internet now dubbed Racefail was happening, in which many readers of color were discussing how they felt marginalized by the relatively white world of fantasy and science fiction. Most of the conversation concerned adult fantasy and SF, but I could see how those discussions could be applied to children’s and YA books. This became the focus for our small press project, which for many months was mostly just an exercise of what-if: what if I could create a job for myself and do some good in the world at the same time?

My friend eventually moved on to other projects, but I forged ahead with the business plan and fundraisers, and as you know, soon after Lee & Low noticed what we were doing and the attention it was getting on blogs and Twitter, and eventually I brought Tu with me to the company.

ML: While there have been New York Times children’s bestsellers that feature main characters of color (Rick Riordan’s Red Pyramid, for example, and Simone Elkeles’ Perfect Chemistry series), I think there is still a perception that books about minorities are a tough sell to New York publishing companies. What do you think?

SW: I think you’re right that the perception is still there, though at the same time I feel like it’s been lessening within the last year or two. Or perhaps it’s just a function of me being in thinking-about-diversity mode every day? But when I go into a bookstore, I notice more diversity, and I’m seeing bloggers and reviewers with a renewed sense of diversity’s importance, especially when it comes to genre fiction. I don’t know that it’s MORE awareness than, say, we had in the ’90s when everyone was talking about diversity, but it feels more “mainstream,” if that makes sense, to care about diversity beyond a few token books. In other words, “mainstream” culture is looking beyond traditional WASP culture that’s been historically considered the face of “mainstream.” I hope this trend continues!

It’s also a growing reality that our audience—kids—is increasingly diverse. We’re nearing the point at which half of K-12 students in the U.S. are people of color, if we haven’t passed it already. So it’s a market reality that we must acknowledge in publishing for this audience.

ML: Where do you see the children’s and young adult book market going in the future with regard to multicultural titles?

SW: As I said, the demographics of kids in the U.S. is changing. So I think it can only grow.

I also think that we’re moving more toward stories that are about something besides the “experience” of being a minority. Hopefully, more and more books will be more about the adventures of a person who happens to be from a particular race/ethnic background, rather than about their trials as a person of a certain ethnicity (i.e., it’s so tough being X). Their ethnicity will inform many parts of the story, and might affect the choices they make or the influence of family and friends—or even enemies—but it’s not the whole story. That’s what we’re working toward at Tu.

ML: Can you tell us a little about why you acquired the three books that will be premiering this fall on Tu’s first list?

SW: A launch list is a challenge, because you want it to reflect the mission of the imprint. You have to show its breadth and its depth—we’ll be publishing middle grade and young adult books for both boys and girls. We will publish fantasy and science fiction, and we also want to publish books featuring a variety of cultures and ethnicities. We also want to showcase experienced authors and discover new talent. So our first three books needed to reflect all those goals.

The main reason I acquired these books is because they’re awesome, exciting reads. But it’s also nice to know that these books reflect that breadth of experiences and genres and depth of quality we’re looking for at the same time.

Galaxy Games: The Challengers features Japanese American and Japanese point of view characters who are boys. There’s a lot of humor that middle grade boys will love, action, adventure, and strange aliens from outer space. While gatekeepers might consider it more of a “boy book,” I think girls will also enjoy it. Author Greg Fishbone has published one book before, but he’s well known in the children’s book community for his work with SCBWI.

Tankborn will probably appeal more to teen girls, though we hope guys will like it too. Its influence is mainly Indian (through the caste system), though there are strains of other cultural influences as well, seen through both postapocalyptic and dystopian lenses. Karen Sandler is new to YA, though she’s written almost 20 adult titles and screenplays.

Wolf Mark brings us back to the present with a Native American main character in a more urban fantasy/paranormal story, with strains of spy intrigue, suspense, and mystery as well (I like to call it “Burn Notice with werewolves,” except the werewolves are Abenaki skinwalkers). Joseph Bruchac has been working in children’s and YA books for several decades and his picture books and novels are both acclaimed and beloved, so we’re happy to have the chance to work with him.

And for those who love their romance, we’ve got that too, in both Wolf Mark and Tankborn.

ML: What are your goals for Tu Books in the future?

SW: For the next couple of years, I want to continue as we are right now, publishing great books, showing that there’s a definite place for diversity in genre books for young readers, and broadening our reach. As time goes on and the imprint gets more established, I’d like to grow the list, of course, but I’d also like to make sure that we’re covering a wide variety of cultures and experiences, that we’re discovering new writers of color (we have been discussing a Tu-based New Voices contest for sometime in the future), and that we’re adapting as publishing changes—after all, with the way publishing is changing right now, who knows what the face of publishing will look like in five or ten years? I want us to be technologically adept and to reach the readers where they are, whether that be on e-reading devices or on something we haven’t yet predicted, let alone invented. However we deliver the content, though, the most important thing is that we publish fun, exciting, adventurous tales that are, as the Lee & Low company motto says, “about everyone, for everyone.”

For more on Stacy Whitman, visit her website. For more on Tu Books, visit their website.

On the Trail of the Wolf

I’ve been fascinated by animals all of my life … especially such large carnivores as wolves and bears and mountain lions. One of my earliest ambitions was to become a naturalist or perhaps a park ranger where I would be able to interact with such powerful creatures on a regular basis. My feeling of connection to those animals grew even deeper as I grew older and learned more about the Abenaki Indian culture that is part of my heritage. For example, as John Lawyer, an Abenaki elder once explained it to me, there’s visible evidence that we humans are close kin to the bear, the wolf, and the lion. Our eyes, like theirs, are in the front of our heads. Thus we can follow the trail of whatever we hunt. The eyes of the rabbit and the deer are on the sides of their heads to enable them to see all around them. That is because they are the ones being hunted.

When I went to Cornell University, I spent three years studying Wildlife Conservation before switching to English after taking several Creative Writing courses that led me to another trail, which convinced me writing was the path I was meant to follow.

However, as a writer, I never forgot that first connection to nature. Much of what I’ve written is about the natural world and draws on all I’ve learned, not just in the classroom, but from my American Indian elders and from the forest itself, which is a great teacher for those willing to be silent, look, and listen.

I’ve also kept reading. I am, by any definition, a voracious reader. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t hunger for books. I’m always wolfing down at least a dozen books at any given time. I finish an average of a book a day. I devour fiction, poetry, nonfiction, translations, plays, graphic novels, books from all over the world, including Africa and Asia.

And I love genre fiction — the spy novel (some of that shows in Wolf Mark), detective stories, science fiction and fantasy. I believe I have as complete a grasp on the literature and folklore of lycanthropy as anyone in the world. (The first story I can recall reading about a human being joining with the wolves is one that I still love and admire. Rudyard Kipling’s powerful and still relevant collection of stories, The Jungle Book, published in 1894.)

All of this is the background that took me down the trail toward Wolf Mark, a shapeshifter story with a difference, for it is not shaped by the grisly and horrific European conventions of the werewolf as ravening beast, but by American Indian traditions that recognize kinship with the animals and see the wolf as brother, as teacher, as guide.

I also think that I wrote Wolf Mark because I wanted to write a YA supernatural novel that would be as interesting to young men as the currently popular romantic novels about hunky vampires are to young women.

Note my use of the word “think” in that last paragraph. I say that because writing Wolf Mark was not really a conscious decision. I heard the voice of my main character speaking to me and began to write down what I heard from him.

Of course what I heard may have just come from within my own subconscious, from things I already knew. And this leads me to the last thing I’d like to share in this brief essay — a few words about belief.

I believe that as a writer, you write best when you are writing about things you know deeply and well. Or about things that you want to know deeply and well and thus begin to embark upon the journey to learn them. That journey can take decades, as was the case for me with such books I’ve written as Sacajawea and Code Talker.

The stories that fail for me as a reader are usually those that I stop believing because they betray a lack of knowledge on the writer’s part. (That is sadly true of most — but not all — books about American Indians or with Native characters that were written by non-Indians.) A few facts scattered here and there are not enough. You have to feel that there’s a depth, real roots holding the story up. In the words of Alexander Pope, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing/Drink deep or taste not the Pierian spring …”

When a story is backed by knowledge, deepened by understanding, then even if that story is fantasy, taking place in a world far removed from the one in which most people believe, then disbelief can be willingly suspected. Then we may believe in the unbelievable and trust the author as our guide as we follow his or her story’s trail.

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[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.diversityinya.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/josephbruchac.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]For over thirty years Joseph Bruchac has been creating poetry, short stories, novels, anthologies and music that reflect his Abenaki Indian heritage and Native American traditions. He is the author of more than 70 books for children and adults. The best selling Keepers of the Earth: Native American Stories and Environmental Activities for Children and others of his “Keepers” series, with its remarkable integration of science and folklore, continue to receive critical acclaim and to be used in classrooms throughout the country. Visit his website at josephbruchac.com.[/author_info] [/author]