Booking Katrina

Books give us the stories that help us relate to the past. 10 years ago, Hurricane Katrina was an event that we all watched on television as details unfolded before us. Even with continuous CNN coverage, we could not understand, could not accept the devastation we witnessed. Why didn’t they leave? Why didn’t the government do more? Why did so many people live in a low lying flood plane in hurricane country?

Arriving in August, Katrina was the  fifth hurricane of the season. It was the costliest natural disaster, as well as one of the five deadliest hurricanes in America. We watched in agony as the storm grew in intensity and we especially watched on 29 August when it hit land in Louisiana. And, it hit hard.

Today, New Orleans continues to hold a place in our hearts. And, with these fine books for young adult readers, the events from 10 years ago can51Zr4+6X8OL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_ hold a place on bookshelves and in our collective memories. While hurricanes are meteorological events, this one became a sociological one that symbolized racism, classicism, government inefficiency and man’s inhumanity to man. I think this country is still process all the went wrong leading up to and during the storm while also celebrating what went right in the aftermath. While most of these books are not issue driven, they do speak to the issues and they become necessary reading for teens.

First on the list is the just released Finding Someplace.

Denise Lewis Patrick. Finding Someplace. Henry Holt and Co; August, 2015. ages 8-12.
Reesie Boone just knows that thirteen is going to be her best year yet-this will be the year she makes her very first fashion design on her Ma Maw’s sewing machine. She’ll skip down the streets of New Orleans with her best friends, Ayanna and Orlando, and everyone will look at her in admiration.
But on Reesie’s birthday, everything changes. Hurricane Katrina hits her city. Stranded at home alone, Reesie takes refuge with her elderly neighbor, Miss Martine. The waters rise. They escape in a boat. And soon Reesie is reunited with her family. But her journey back home has only begun.
This is a story of a family putting itself back together, and a young girl learning to find herself.

51-Lfjv4uFL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Paul Volponi. Hurricane Song: A Novel of New Orleans. Speak; 2009. ages 12 and up.
When Miles?s mother remarries, Miles decides to move to New Orleans to be with his father. But he and his father are very different?Miles?s dad lives for jazz, while Miles?s first love is football. Then Hurricane Katrina hits, and the two must seek refuge in the Superdome. What would normally be a dream come true for a football fan, this safe haven turns into a nightmare when the power fails and gangs take over. And when his father decides to rebel, Miles must make a choice that will alter their relationship? and their lives?forever.

Jewell Parker Rhodes. Ninth Ward. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; April 2012. ages 10 and up.
Twelve-year-old Lanesha lives in a tight-knit community in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward. She doesn’t have a fancy house like516MsJwfguL._AC_SX60_CR,0,0,60,60_ her uptown family or lots of friends like the other kids on her street. But what she does have is Mama Ya-Ya, her fiercely loving caretaker, wise in the ways of the world and able to predict the future. So when Mama Ya-Ya’s visions show a powerful hurricane–Katrina–fast approaching, it’s up to Lanesha to call upon the hope and strength Mama Ya-Ya has given her to help them both survive the storm.

Jewell Parker Rhodes has written other novels set in Louisiana: Sugar (Little, Borwn Books, 2013) and Bayou Magic (Little, Brown Books; 2015).

Michael Eric Dyson. Come Hell or High Water: Hurrican Katrian and the Color of Disaster. Basic Civitas Books; 2006. adult crossover.
When Hurricane Katrina tore through New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, hundreds of thousands were left behind to suffer the ravages of destruction, disease, and even death. The majority of these people were black; nearly all were poor. The 5141E0hYRAL._AA160_Federal government’s slow response to local appeals for help is by now notorious. Yet despite the cries of outrage that have mounted since the levees broke, we have failed to confront the disaster’s true lesson: to be poor, or black, in today’s ownership society, is to be left behind. Displaying the intellectual rigor, political passion, and personal empathy that have won him acclaim and fans all across the color line, Michael Eric Dyson offers a searing assessment of the meaning of Hurricane Katrina. Combining interviews with survivors of the disaster with his deep knowledge of black migrations and government policy over decades, Dyson provides the historical context that has been sorely missing from public conversation. He explores the legacy of black suffering in America since slavery and ties its psychic scars to today’s crisis. And, finally, his critique of the way black people are framed in the national consciousness will shock and surprise even the most politically savvy reader. With this clarion call Dyson warns us that we can only find redemption as a society if we acknowledge that Katrina was more than an engineering or emergency response failure. From the TV newsroom to the Capitol Building to the backyard, we must change the way we relate to the black and the poor among us. What’s at stake is no less than the future of democracy.

Jacqueline Woodson. Beneath a Meth Moon. Speak; 2013. ages 12 and up.
Hurricane Katrina took her mother and granmother. And even though Laurel Daneau has moves on to a new life–one that 51ket+Hcm5L._AC_SX60_CR,0,0,60,60_includes a new best friend, a spot on the cheerleading squad, and dating the co-captain of the football team–she can’t get past the pain of that loss. Then her new boyfriend introduces her to meth, and Laurel is instantly seduced by its spell, the way it erases, even if only temporarily, her memories. Soon Laurel is completely hooked, a shell of her former self, desperate to be whole again, but lacking the strength to break free. But with the help of a new friend–and the loyalty of an old one–she is able to rewrite her own story and move on with her own life.

Sherri L. Smith. Orleans. Speak; 2014. ages 12 and up.
51TcFYR1qSL._AA160_After a string of devastating hurricanes and a severe outbreak of Delta Fever, the Gulf Coast has been quarantined. Years later, residents of the Outer States are under the assumption that life in the Delta is all but extinct…but in reality, a new primitive society has been born.

Fen de la Guerre is living with the O-Positive blood tribe in the Delta when they are ambushed. Left with her tribe leader’s newborn, Fen is determined to get the baby to a better life over the wall before her blood becomes tainted. Fen meets Daniel, a scientist from the Outer States who has snuck into the Delta illegally. Brought together by chance, kept together by danger, Fen and Daniel navigate the wasteland of Orleans. In the end, they are each other’s last hope for survival.

51qRInXRN3L._SY386_BO1,204,203,200_Renne Watson. A Place Where Hurricanes Happen. Random House; 2010. ages 5 and up.
Children of New Orleans tell about their experiences of Hurricane Katrina through poignant and straightforward free verse in this fictional account of the storm. As natural and man-made disasters become commonplace, we increasingly need books like this one to help children contextualize and discuss difficult and often tragic events.

Brenda Woods. Saint Louis Armstrong Beach. Nancy Paulsen Books; 2011. ages 10 and up.
A boy, a dog, and New Orleans’ most famous hurricane51UhecSwLaL._AA160_

Saint is a boy with confidence as big as his name is long. A budding musician, he earns money playing clarinet for the New Orleans tourists, and his best friend is a stray dog named Shadow. At first Saint is sure that Hurricane Katrina will be just like the last one–no big deal. But then the city is ordered to evacuate and Saint refuses to leave without Shadow. Saint and Shadow flee to his neighbor’s attic–and soon enough it’s up to Saint to save them all.

Dave Eggers. Zeitoun. McSweeney’s; 2009. adult crossover [one of my personal favorites]
The true story of one family, caught between America’s two biggest policy disasters: the war on terror and the response to Hurricane Katrina.510WBUPoz7L._AC_SX60_CR,0,0,60,60_

Abdulrahman and Kathy Zeitoun run a house-painting business in New Orleans. In August of 2005, as Hurricane Katrina approaches, Kathy evacuates with their four young children, leaving Zeitoun to watch over the business. In the days following the storm he travels the city by canoe, feeding abandoned animals and helping elderly neighbors. Then, on September 6th, police officers armed with M-16s arrest Zeitoun in his home. Told with eloquence and compassion, Zeitoun is a riveting account of one family’s unthinkable struggle with forces beyond wind and water.

Josh Neufeld. A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge. Pantheon, 2009.
Here we meet Denise, a counselor and social worker, and a sixth-generation New Orleanian;
61W7+rrh-RL._AC_SX60_CR,0,0,60,60_“The Doctor,” a proud fixture of the French Quarter; Abbas and Darnell, two friends who face the storm from Abbas’ s family-run market; Kwame, a pastor’s son just entering his senior year of high school; and the young couple Leo and Michelle, who both grew up in the city. Each is forced to confront the same wrenching decision–whether to stay or to flee.As beautiful as it is poignant, A.D. presents a city in chaos and shines a bright, profoundly human light on the tragedies and triumphs that took place within it.
Recommended by Lila Quintero Weaver

Fatima Shaik and Nicole P. Greene. What Went Missing and What Got Found. Xavier Review Press, 2015.
A love letter to the entertaining, unpredictable, and flawed characters who populated New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina, What Went Missing and What Got Found is a lyrical short story collection with undertones of the blues.
Set in a deep-rooted community, the book describes the inner lives of outsiders with humor and tenderness. There are religious zealots, day-dreaming musicians, failed romantics, and more a mute woman who believes that the photos of starving children in the newspaper are speaking to her, a man who mourns the loss of his true love while being accused of her murder, and an old couple who spends their last night together as flood waters rise around their bed.

The Short Story Review wrote about Shaik s previous adult book, The Mayor of New Orleans: Just Talking Jazz, The trio of novellas is set in and around New Orleans where the mixed-race Creoles speak their own dialect…Shaik writes with empathy and compassion about the lower rungs of New Orleans society. There are no villains here, nor is there the damp-palm voyeurism we have seen in other New Orleans-set stories. National Public Radio called her book a terrific, charging solo. Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Kirkus, and the San Francisco Chronicle also praised the collection.41tren68Y2L._AC_SX60_CR,0,0,60,60_
Recommended by Lyn Miller-Lachmann (below)

What other books can you recommend for YAs on New Orleans or Hurricane Katrina?

Community Marketing

A few weeks ago, I was in Indianapolis and had a random conversation with a stranger that led to talking about his young son and his summer reading habits. Dad wanted Jr. to read, Jr. didn’t want to read. My message to him was what I’d give any parent.

  • It’s summer. Let him read what he’ll enjoy.
  • He’ll read more if he can find books that relate to him.

Dad was happy to hear this and he wanted to get books into his son’s hands that he would indeed read but, he wasn’t sure how to find books that a African American preteen male would enjoy. He asked if I knew any black librarians in Kokomo, a place he could send his son to get the books he wants. I suggested he go to libraries that serve the black community, relying on my librarian brothers and sisters there to be able to him young readers find books to which they can relate. I’m relying on librarians to be advocates rather than gatekeepers. But, shouldn’t any children’s librarian be able to help this parent?

I realized in all our talk about the need for diverse books, in all the actions we take and all the planning we do that we’re still talking about this with each other. The message, that we need more diverse books, and why we need them is directed at those who work inside kidlit and doesn’t include the voice of parents or children.

It seems that the book world has always been a rather insular place that rarely looks to readers to find out where their interests lie with regards to how they find out about books or what they’d really like to read.

For one thing, publishers (until very recently) didn’t “touch” consumers. Their interaction was with intermediaries who did. The focus for publishers was on the trade, not the reader, and the trade was “known” without research. To the extent that research was necessary, it was accomplished by phone calls to key players in the trade. The national chain buyer’s opinion of the market was the market research that mattered. If the publisher “knew different”, it wouldn’t do them any good if the gatekeeper wouldn’t allow the publisher’s books on his shelves.

This same article goes on to discuss how marketing information is so easily available thanks largely to online networking, but that publishes don’t know how to mine it.

As they continue to struggle to redefine their own business practices, the call for more diversity in what they publish is probably similar to the noise of mosquitos buzzing in their ears. Would it make a difference if we banded with those outside publishing to persist louder than a mosquito?

If children and parents knew to ask for more books in libraries and bookstores how high up would their voices be heard? No, I don’t believe they know that asking will make a difference. Think of how this marketing is done, how the decision making has been top down and consumers don’t always feel empowered with regard to books.

I was truly glad to see Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund write

 Let’s demand and support beautiful high-quality books that will allow all children to experience bookjoy as they see themselves and all they have in common with others in a multiracial, multicultural, democratic society. And let’s make sure we teach history that is true. Only the truth can set us free.

Zetta Elliott recently following up on a story about Jet Blue’s Soar With Reading Program. They, like BarberShop Books, and other corporate sponsored reading programs mean well, but unless they understand the urgency of providing young readers with books they can relate, they will simply increase the demand for the status quo. Good intentions, you know?

We have to keep demanding the books for our children, the diverse books that represent who they are and who they are becoming but in looking for allies, perhaps it’s time to look outside the world of publishing. Talk to teachers and friends. Try a chatting on FB or Twitter with a group you don’t typical discuss books.

August: New Releases

I only found two books by authors of color that were release last month and only four this month several more this month. Please do share any MG or YA titles you know that I’ve missed. I’d be quite happy to add them to the list.

Original post has been updated.

Never Always Sometimes by Adi Alsaid; Harlequin Teen
Best friends Dave and Julia were determined to never be cliché high school kids—the ones who sit at the same lunch table every day, dissecting the drama from homeroom and plotting their campaigns for prom king and queen. They even wrote their own Never List of everything they vowed they’d never, ever do in high school.
Some of the rules have been easy to follow, like #5, never die your hair a color of the rainbow, or #7, never hook up with a teacher. But Dave has a secret: he’s broken rule #8, never pine silently after someone for the entirety of high school. It’s either that or break rule #10, never date your best friend. Dave has loved Julia for as long as he can remember.
Julia is beautiful, wild and impetuous. So when she suggests they do every Never on the list, Dave is happy to play along. He even dyes his hair an unfortunate shade of green. It starts as a joke, but then a funny thing happens: Dave and Julia discover that by skipping the clichés, they’ve actually been missing out on high school. And maybe even on love. (ages 12-18)

Ashes to Ashes by Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian; Simon and Schuster
Think Mary, Kat, and Lillia have nothing left to lose? Think again. The fiery conclusion to the Burn for Burn trilogy from New York Times bestselling author Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian.

They only meant to right the wrongs. It was about getting even. Burn for burn.But the fire they lit kept raging…Reeve ended up hurt, then Rennie ended up dead.Everything will turn to ash if they don’t stop what they started. But now that Mary knows the truth about what happened to her, will she want to?Secrets drew Lillia, Kat, and Mary together. The truth might tear them apart. (ages 12-18)

Daughter of Dusk (A Midnight Thief Novel) by Livia Blackburne; Disney Hyperion
After learning the truth about her bloodlines, Kyra can’t help but feel like a monster.

Though she’s formed a tentative alliance with the Palace, Kyra must keep her identity a secret or risk being hunted like the rest of her Demon Rider kin. Tristam and the imprisoned assassin James are among the few who know about her heritage, but when Tristam reveals a heartbreaking secret of his own, Kyra’s not sure she can trust him. And with James’s fate in the hands of the palace, Kyra fears that he will give her away to save himself. As tensions rise within Forge’s Council, and vicious Demon Rider attacks continue in surrounding villages, Kyra knows she must do something to save her city. But she walks a dangerous line between opposing armies: will she be able to use her link to the Demon Riders for good, or will her Makvani blood prove to be deadly? In this spellbinding sequel to Midnight Thief, Kyra and Tristam face their biggest battle yet as they grapple with changing allegiances, shocking deceit, and vengeful opponents. (ages 12-18)

Finding Someplace by Denise Lewis Patrick; Henry Holt and Co.
Reesie Boone just knows that thirteen is going to be her best year yet-this will be the year she makes her very first fashion design on her Ma Maw’s sewing machine. She’ll skip down the streets of New Orleans with her best friends, Ayanna and Orlando, and everyone will look at her in admiration.

But on Reesie’s birthday, everything changes. Hurricane Katrina hits her city. Stranded at home alone, Reesie takes refuge with her elderly neighbor, Miss Martine. The waters rise. They escape in a boat. And soon Reesie is reunited with her family. But her journey back home has only begun. This is a story of a family putting itself back together, and a young girl learning to find herself.

Enchanted Air: Two Cultures Two Wings: A Memoir by Margarita Engle; Atheneum
In this poetic memoir, Margarita Engle, the first Latina woman to receive a Newbery Honor, tells of growing up as a child of two cultures during the Cold War. Margarita is a girl from two worlds. Her heart lies in Cuba, her mother’s tropical island country, a place so lush with vibrant life that it seems like a fairy tale kingdom. But most of the time she lives in Los Angeles, lonely in the noisy city and dreaming of the summers when she can take a plane through the enchanted air to her beloved island. Words and images are her constant companions, friendly and comforting when the children at school are not. Then a revolution breaks out in Cuba. Margarita fears for her far-away family. When the hostility between Cuba and the United States erupts at the Bay of Pigs Invasion, Margarita’s worlds collide in the worst way possible. How can the two countries she loves hate each other so much? And will she ever get to visit her beautiful island again?

Game On by Calvin Slater; Kensington
Xavier Hunter hoped his senior year would be bad news-free. His old enemy is finally in lockdown and Xavier is out from under one mad-crazy relationship disaster. And he’s cool with his dream girl, Samantha Fox, dating other guys because fair is fair–he hasn’t been a saint. But he’s not hearing anything good about her new man, Sean. And showing Samantha the truth could be the one game Xavier can’t win. . . With graduation and college coming up fast, Samantha has been thinking hard about her future. Maybe she and Xavier have too much baggage to get back together. And Sean is a chance to see things fresh and figure out what she really wants. So she doesn’t need Xavier telling jealous lies–especially when the drama he’s lighting up could crash and burn their futures for good. . . (ages 12 and up)

Show and Prove by Sofia Quintero; Knopf
The summer of 1983 was the summer hip-hop proved its staying power. The South Bronx is steeped in Reaganomics, war in the Middle East, and the twin epidemics of crack and AIDS, but Raymond “Smiles” King and Guillermo “Nike” Vega have more immediate concerns. Smiles was supposed to be the assistant crew chief at his summer camp, but the director chose Cookie Camacho instead, kicking off a summer-long rivalry. Meanwhile, the aspiring b-boy Nike has set his wandering eye on Sara, the sweet yet sassy new camp counselor, as well as top prize at a breakdancing competition downtown. The two friends have been drifting apart ever since Smiles got a scholarship to a fancy private school, and this summer the air is heavy with postponed decisions that will finally be made.
Raw and poignant, this is a story of music, urban plight, and racial tension that’s as relevant today as it was in 1983. (ages 12 and up)

Shadows of Sherwood (Robyn Hoodlum series) by Kekla Magoon. Bloomsbury USA.
The night her parents disappear, twelve-year-old Robyn Loxley must learn to fend for herself. Her home, Nott City, has been taken over by a harsh governor, Ignomus Crown. After fleeing for her life, Robyn has no choice but to join a band of strangers-misfit kids, each with their own special talent for mischief. Setting out to right the wrongs of Crown’s merciless government, they take their outlaw status in stride. But Robyn can’t rest until she finds her parents. As she pieces together clues from the night they disappeared, Robyn learns that her destiny is tied to the future of Nott City in ways she never expected.
Kicking off a new series with an unforgettable heroine, readers will be treated to feats of courage and daring deeds as Robyn and her band find their way in this cruel, new world. (ages 8-12)

Billy Buckhorn Supranormal (Pathfinders) by Gary Robinson; 7th Generation
Billy Buckhorn’s uncanny intuition became apparent at an early age. In the course of this exciting series, Billy’s supernatural abilities grow and develop, and his reputation as a gifted “holy man” in the Old Way spreads throughout the Cherokee Nation. In book three, Supranormal, Billy and his grandfather face a deadly, ancient beast that’s poised to take control of the world. While Wesley and Billy summon aid from the spirit realms, Billy’s father, a college professor, puts together an archaeological team to help out—and to document the unprecedented things they’ve seen and experienced. But even with everyone pulling together, can they stop Uktena? (ages 12-16)

Fire Fight (Pathfinders) by Jacqueline Guest; 7th Generation
After her ikusin (grandmother) dies, Kai Hunter, a part Navajo, part Stoney Nakoda sixteen-year-old, runs away to Banff, Alberta, to avoid being placed in a foster home. Kai lies her way into a new identity, a job and a safe place to live. She makes new friends and volunteers with a rapid-attack crew for the forestry service. She even meets a great guy named Rory, who’s into motorcycles, just like her—and who seems to be into her too.
But Kai is scared of being found out, and she isn’t sure that she can trust all of her new friends…or that she likes the person she’s pretending to be. Meanwhile, she’s got to pay rent, figure out whether Rory is boyfriend material and assist the rap-attack crew as it faces a string of suspicious forest fires. In the thrilling conclusion to this romantic adventure, Kai’s choices become matters of life and death. (ages 12-16)

Moving Target by Christina Diaz Gonzalez; Scholastic
In this exciting and action-packed adventure by an award-winning author, a young girl discovers her secret ancient bloodline. The fate of her family, and the world, may rest in her hands… Cassie Arroyo, an American studying in Rome, has her world ripped apart when someone tries to kill her father, an art history professor at an Italian university. Is she their next target? (ages 8-12)

Interview: Lyn Miller-Lachmann

Lyn Miller-Lachmann’s books include Rogue, Gringolandia and Surviving Santiago, the recently released sequel to Gringolandia. Here, Tina returns to Chile, to her homeland and to her father for her summer vacation. Chile is in turmoil lynunder the rule of Pinochet and her father spends more time fighting for justice than getting to know his daughter. While Lyn is also a champion for social justice, she has managed to balance motherhood, writing, translating, editing, Lego-ing and even blogging. Her most recent post, “On Flags and Diverse Books: How We Can Make Attention” calls attention not only to the price paid to get the flag removed from the state house in South Carolina, but it also looks at Jet Blues attempt to improve literacy in urban areas by providing free books that lack characters of color or Native Americans. She urges readers to visit Zetta Elliott’s blog and sign the letter.

So, how did Lyn happen to decide to write about Tina, Chile and Pinochet? I’ll let her tell you that!

Why should people in the United States know about Chile?

Chile has a long history of peaceful democratic rule dating back to the early nineteenth century, and a long history of interaction with the United States. For instance, Chilean miners arrived in California during the Gold Rush and brought more advanced mining techniques. But in 1970 when the Chileans elected socialist Salvador Allende as president, the U.S. government declared that it would not tolerate a leftist government in Latin America and worked with opposition leaders and the military to overthrow Allende. The U.S.-sponsored military coup ushered in a 17-year dictatorship under General Augusto Pinochet, whose name has become synonymous with repression, torture, and murder.

We take our freedoms in the United States for granted, so much so that many people don’t even bother to vote. Under the Pinochet dictatorship, the Chilean people weren’t allowed to vote. They had no control over a government that ruled every aspect of their lives, and many people suffered and died in the process of getting their rights back.

41UCGaCJegL._UY250_Chile today is a vibrant, interesting, and increasingly tolerant country, very different from the place I depict in Surviving Santiago and Gringolandia. For the most part, Chileans don’t want to be defined by their tragic past, but there’s an important story in the sacrifice that so many people made to change their country into the thriving democracy it is today.

From your author’s notes, you actually lived in Chile. While you were there, how did you become familiar with the culture, with the day-to-day lives of the people who live there?

Before going to Chile to research the (never-published) book that would eventually lead to both Gringolandia and Surviving Santiago, I lived one summer in a house of Chilean exiles who had taken up new lives in Nicaragua. I also worked with an organization of exiles and refugees in Madison, Wisconsin called the Pablo Neruda Cultural Center and through them met several musicians who were still in the country, working underground to restore democracy. I stayed in the home of one of those musicians, Nelson Schwenke, in the month that I was in Chile and got to know his extended family. He and his wife took my husband and me everywhere they went, including the beach house belonging to her family. We corresponded over a period of five years, and he sent me materials from the “NO” campaign in the 1988 plebiscite that ended Pinochet’s rule and the 1989 electoral campaign won by the democratic opposition known as the Concertación.

FC9780762456338My knowledge of Spanish helped a lot in researching this novel and learning about the daily lives of the people. Most of the research materials, including newspaper articles, human rights reports, and first-person accounts, are not available in English. Without knowing the local language, I would have a hard time researching a historical novel taking place in another country, particularly a novel that portrays the lives of ordinary people.

Surviving Santiago is set in 1989. I remember 1989! You got the Lego in! Were you also a fan of St. Elsewhere? What are some of your other personal interests that you embedded into the story?

Yes, I watched St. Elsewhere religiously, both new shows and reruns. I also wanted to give Boomer a hug. (And I felt so cheated by the final episode!) I couldn’t do a lot with Lego because one could only find the basic sets in Chile, but I brought one of the first Pirate sets as a gift for my friend Nelson’s two boys when I arrived. I had a lot of fun putting the Eldorado Fortress together with the older boy, but his younger brother kept breaking it.

I wasn’t a fan of heavy metal at the time, but I was surprised to see how popular Metallica and other U.S. bands were. In a way, it wasn’t surprising because the Chilean groups playing local or indigenous music were banned or severely censored because of their overt or veiled protest against the dictatorship. And the government wanted to import culture from the United States out of admiration for U.S. capitalism and gratitude for continued U.S. support. Ten years later, my son became a fan of Metallica, and that’s when I realized how much I liked their music. Before then, I saw them as the regime-sanctioned replacement for the folk music that I appreciated so much and helped to bring to Madison as part of the Pablo Neruda Center.

In my review for Surviving Santiago, I mentioned a little about the inability to give up on people or places. Tina was unable to give up on Frankie. She trusted him. How difficult is it to convey trust to a reader?

One of the things I’ve learned over the years as a writer is how to convey difficult emotional states and processes through metaphor. At the beginning of the novel, we see Tina bonding with her new stepfather over restoring old houses. When you work on a decrepit house, you run into problem after problem, many of them unexpected, and it’s so tempting to walk away or tear it down and build something new. In fact, both Tina’s aunt and Frankie talk about how they would tear down and build anew. To restore an old house, you have to trust in the value of the house and in your ability to be up to the job.

Tina doesn’t give up on houses, and she doesn’t give up on people either, much as she would sometimes like to. Before believing in Frankie, she believes in her father and holds out hope that behind this wounded, cold man is the loving father she remembers from before his arrest. She also wants to believe that Frankie genuinely loves her and looks for every shred of evidence that he does—that he is fundamentally a good person caught up in a bad situation. And that she can save him from that situation.

Do you think her trust in Frankie in any way reflected her belief that Chile could be a better, more just place to live? What made her hold on to him? Tina was so self-centered (so typical of her age), she seemed to have little interest in the country or for what her father was fighting.

After eight years in the United States, Tina has finally come to see her new country as home and absorbed many of its values—a sometimes naïve idealism, greater openness vis a vis her aunt’s sexual orientation, her refusal to accept the traditional gender roles that still dominate in Chile. That’s really her frame of reference now, so that when she arrives in Chile, she’s a stranger in the land of her birth. She dreams of bringing Frankie to the United States to give him the advantages that she has come to appreciate in her new life. This is also what Frankie wants—to escape his situation and start over again in what he has idealized as the land of opportunity. Yet Tina’s immersion in the culture and values of the United States is part of what causes her to miss warning signs about Frankie—along with her loneliness, her physical attraction to him, and all the things they appear to have in common.

Like many of my own friends’ children, Tina will never return to Chile permanently. She has successfully navigated immigration, and the United States is her new home. Her acceptance of her stepfather exemplifies this. But while she retains her identity as an assimilated immigrant, she comes to love her father as he is and admire his dedication and courage. In his idealism and willingness to put his life on the line for what he believes, he has inspired Tina to do the same. She may go back home to Wisconsin, but she is still her father’s child.  

Tina’s relationships with her father and with her aunt do give her—and the reader—hope that Chile can be a better, more just place. Here, Tía Ileana plays a key role as Tina’s mentor. She shows the possibilities that come from reaching out to people who do not understand, having the courage to enter into dialogue rather than violent confrontation. While the United States sponsored the military coup, the Chilean people themselves restored their own democracy through peaceful means. Tina has played no role in this—it’s naïve of her to come from the United States and tell people how to live their lives—but she learns a lot about hope, persistence, acceptance, and reconciliation from her time in Chile.

Was it difficult to find the Chilean Spanish?

I knew a lot of the Chilean words and expressions from my interactions with Chileans both in the United States and in Chile. I also had a reference book of Chilean slang to check the expressions against and to check the spelling. I interact with people from the country online, mostly on music sites or Instagram, which serves as a refresher and a way of learning new slang (that I then can’t use for a book set more than 25 years ago). Because of their relative isolation between the mountains, the desert, and the sea, the people of Chile have developed some unique expressions that can also lead to misunderstandings when interacting with Spanish-speakers from other countries.

Thanks, Lyn for taking the time to provide such a thoughtful interview!

Sunday Morning Reads

On 13 June, this blog quietly celebrated its 9th birthday. It honestly doesn’t feel like I’ve been blogging that long. It also seems odd that a blog would hang around that long. I suppose I should change wholeheartedly to Tumblr, but that too would be outdated in time as well. Over the next few weeks I plan to update my layout here and try to come up with something new and different to freshen things up here and CrazyQuilts so that my reader-and myself- will keep coming back. And, maybe I’ll prepare some sort of celebration for my 10th anniversary!

IMG_5059I spent my morning in the garden as I do most Sundays and my mind filled with blog posts, as it will do in that peaceful place. I reflect on how much I enjoy the garden because of its diversity: the wide variety of flowers and plants and well as the age and ethnic diversity that makes up the gardeners themselves. This year, I planted black-eyed peas and crowder peas, simply because my mom used to grow them.

Yesterday, I went to the local farmer’s market and met a new friend. At this market, the vendors must have produced everything they sell. So, I was amazed when my new friend told me she bought a mango. Ah, yes, a Midwest mango: a bell pepper. I told her of friends who used to call the pepper a mango, but they quite when they had a real mango. She replied that she always has and always will call it a mango.

How do you affect things that are stem from the core of who others are? Goethe said “Everybody wants to be somebody; nobody wants to grow.” I don’t want to be somebody, if I did, I would have taken a different career path. I want to facilitate growth in others through literacy. Not only should readers, all readers, be able to find themselves in books but, they should realize how words and information position them in the world. Native American children and children of color receive a very direct message that they are positioned outside mainstream America when they see how outnumbered they are on most bookshelves in America. Crystal Paul, a black woman, learned a lot from books when she was growing up.

I, like any child writer, was basically making the characters into magical versions of myself, using my own experiences and personality. But, still, the characters were always white. I didn’t notice this until later. But it makes sense, doesn’t it? At an age where imitation is everything, I learned that stories were only written about white characters, so even when I wrote about my own life, made up my own characters, the heroines in my mind was always white.

I appreciate her honest sharing of this frightening fact of life.

Comics are going hip hop with this Public Enemy Ops from PE Comics and Marvel Comics preparing to release hip hop themed covers in October. Marvel’s move is not without controversy.

So I say “no” because Marvel Comics uses black culture and people as decorations, window dressings. They are objects that are to be used when convenient but rarely respected or valued in their own right. I mean, come on: with the right hand, you’ve got the EiC announcing hip hop variants in October, and then with the left, the company announces at SDCC that the new Blade book is going to done by white guys. Again.

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And of course, there was the big Comic Con news from Reginald Hudson, Denis Cowan, Derek T. Tingle and Orlando Jones regarding Milestone 2.0 and plans for Static Shock, Christopher Priest and the Dakota Universe. We cannot underestimate the messages comics deliver our young people about the world around them.

Everyday, we become more aware of how those in libraries, publishing house and technology control the information. So, imagine what happens when a black women tries to take control of the message, write the code and make a living at doing it.

“I naively thought that if we were great at what we do, if we had the “facts” on our side, we would get a ton of support from the tech community. What I totally underestimated was how being so damn great, without permission to be “great” or even “be” in tech, without explicit sponsorship, meant the likelihood of us receiving sizable support was as close to zero as statistically possible.”

Read more because this story does have a good ending. It taught these black women the language of asking and resulted in funding for the documentary #ReWriteTheCode “a data collection project we started in Feb 2015 to find, document, and share details on black women startup founders.” We have to learn from each others’ stories. We have to find ways to tell them ourselves because there are people like Jane Resh Thomas who led one of her students to write

I am angry that someone [Resh] who speaks every semester on writing gently and truthfully about pain placed her own need to feel heard over the pain of others – including the children we all are learning to write for. I am angry that someone with the comfort and privilege of a position of power above us students gave this lecture On High about how others’ pain can be invalid… if we cannot personally feel it. Or rather, if an old, straight, white woman cannot feel it.

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This screams of the need for more Native Americans in Academia and in publishing and in editing and banking and economics and writing and illustrating and librarians and in technology. In places where we can write not only the words and images but also the codes. But if we don’t see ourselves doing these things in books or movies or television shows, why would we ever imagine we can? Literacy should empower and if it doesn’t, then does it do any more than enslave us?

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I brought some flowers home, too!

We do have the power (though not always the finances!) to be in some spaces where conversations are had, dreams are crafted and movement is financed. We can sometimes make the choice to venture to the clubs, the workshops and the conferences. So many conferences every summer. I have to admit the International Literacy Association was a new one on my radar but I wasn’t too sure about a literacy event with Shaquille O’Neal and Octavia Spencer as the headliners. I’ll look for reports in the following days. I really appreciated Dr. Marilisa Jiménez Garcia’s reflections on the Children’s Literature Association’s annual conference, only confirming that I need to put this conference in my calendar. 

ChLA is an organization which has historically been committed to social justice. Overall, I think it would benefit from relationships with scholars doing ethnic studies and education research, an initiative listed in their Diversity Committee Plan 2009-2013. Collaboration with these fields would enable exchanges from the perspective of theories such as critical race theory (CRT) and Latino critical theory (LatCrit). I would also encourage children’s illustrators and authors to attend the conference to see how their work is impacting future frameworks and interpretations. ChLA is still a smaller and more manageable conference than meetings such as American Library Association (ALA), Modern Language Association (MLA), and/or National Council for Teachers of English (NCTE). It’s smaller, welcoming environment perhaps makes it more suitable for increasing the participation of scholars of color through mentoring events or spaces designed to nurture the needs of future faculty. Katherine Slater of Rowan University and chair of the Membership Committee said that ChLA plans to incorporate activities, including panels, speakers, and discussion groups that nurture diversity.

The next conference will be 9 June 2016 at Ohio State University in Columbus, OH, a very easy drive from here.

Well, I came home from the garden with lots of tomatoes, cucumbers, jalapeño peppers and sweet potato leaves. I lined a pan with the leaves and placed tomatoes, peppers, cooked rice and tilapia on top. I roasted the dish, as my dear friend from the Congo taught me to do and I had a very different, very delicious meal.

Wishing you a very diverse reading filled week! I’ve got an interview with Lyn Miller-Lachmann coming in my next post!

Saturday Trailer: The Boy Who Carried Bricks: A True Story

What better day for a book trailer than a Saturday?

The Boy Who Carried Bricks: A True Story by Alton Carter; Roadrunner
Abandoned by his father, neglected by his mother, shuttled between foster homes and a boys ranch, a young African-American man refuses to succumb to the fate that the world says should be his. Told by the man who lived it. (ages 12-18)

This video features the author briefly describing his childhood in foster care and why he wrote this book. This nonfiction book is a first hand account of perseverance.

July Releases

Show and Prove by Sofia Quintero; Knopf
The summer of 1983 was the summer hip-hop proved its staying power. The South Bronx is steeped in Reaganomics, war in the Middle East, and the twin epidemics of crack and AIDS, but Raymond “Smiles” King and Guillermo “Nike” Vega have more immediate concerns. Smiles was supposed to be the assistant crew chief at his summer camp, but the director chose Cookie Camacho instead, kicking off a summer-long rivalry. Meanwhile, the aspiring b-boy Nike has set his wandering eye on Sara, the sweet yet sassy new camp counselor, as well as top prize at a breakdancing competition downtown. The two friends have been drifting apart ever since Smiles got a scholarship to a fancy private school, and this summer the air is heavy with postponed decisions that will finally be made.
Raw and poignant, this is a story of music, urban plight, and racial tension that’s as relevant today as it was in 1983.

Hollywood Witch Hunter by Valerie Tejeda; Bloomsbury Spark
From the moment she first learned the truth about witches…she knew she was born to fight them. Now, at sixteen, Iris is the lone girl on the Witch Hunters Special Ops Team.
But when Iris meets a boy named Arlo, he might just be the key to preventing an evil uprising in Southern California. Together they’re ready to protect the human race at all costs. Because that’s what witch hunters do. Welcome to Hollywood.

Down By Law (Throwback Diaries) by Nini Simone; Dafina
Lesson #1: You come for me, I come back even harder for you. Fair exchange. No robberies.
Isis Carter got schooled early on in surviving the streets. When some girls put a beatdown on her, she took back what was hers. When her brother was killed and her mom, Queenie, bailed, Isis fought to stay strong. And when her dad abandoned her for his new family, sixteen-year-old Isis buried the hurt by looking out for herself—and hookin’ up with bad boy Fresh…until a run-in with the law shatters Isis’s world and threatens to destroy her future.Now the only person Isis can rely on is herself…until her secret crush K-Rock steps in. But when Isis lets her guard down, will she be given a second chance to get her life straight or will it cost her everything?

The School For Good and Evil #3: The Last Ever After by Soman Chainani; HarperCollins
In the stunning conclusion to the New York Times bestselling School for Good and Evil trilogy, everything old is new again, as Sophie and Agatha fight the past as well as the present to find the perfect end to their fairy tale. Former best friends Sophie and Agatha thought their ending was sealed when they went their separate ways, but their storybook is about to be rewritten—and this time theirs isn’t the only one. With the girls apart, Evil has taken over and the forces of Good are in deathly peril. Will Agatha and Sophie be able to work together to save them? Will they find their way to being friends again? And will their new ending be the last Ever After they’ve been searching for?