Done Deal

I’m currently reading Bad Luck Girl by Sarah Zettel. “Half fairy. Half human.Half Black When Jazz ruled Chicago.” This is the third book in the American Fairy trilogy and easily stands alone. I should finish soon!

Endings. ALAN just ended as did Grand Jury deliberations in Ferguson.

I’m here in this resort setting in Maryland (no! this is not DC) with an evening to quietly relax with my books. ALAN was low key and quiet this year. I met people I’ve known and supported for years, heard new and different ideas and got a few (47!) new books. Walter Mays did a fabulous job of bringing in a very diverse crew of writers and incorporating authors of various ethnicities, genders, and abilities into panels relevant to every aspect of being a teen.

I think the message I heard most often was that writers must honor the story, not forcing causes or gender or race get into the way and I can buy that. When you’re writing from who you are or more precisely, who your character is, their Blackness or their queerness will be so much a part of them that it will just be there.

Why was it that only Coe Booth, Christopher Paul Curtis and Walter dared mention Ferguson? How can we teach children how to cuss, ignite their sexual curiosity and show them how to come of age while ignoring issues of justice and equality? This is the meat of the call for diversity, and it’s more substantive that simply asking you to see our differences when at the same time I want you to understand our commonalities.

If you’ve heard me present lately,  you’ve heard these stories. They’re important.

I have a co-worker who was complaining that her niece is afraid of black men. She wondered what schools are teaching. I suppose we could blame schools who don’t include images of black men in books and in posters in classrooms. But real blame goes to the continued negative way black men are portrayed on the news and in TV shows and movies. Look how often the criminals are Black or Latino. Look how often the military shows have Middle Eastern or Chinese bad guys.

As I was putting together a list of children’s books that had black men as fathers or teachers or other positive role models, it suddenly hit me that this little girl would be afraid of my sons. My kind, wonderful, silly, smart sons. And think of all the other white girls who would be afraid of my sons, and all the boys who would be too. Think of all the police officers who would be afraid of my sons, like Darren Wilson, simply because they don’t know any.

I also think about the social studies teacher from Indiana who had no idea what to do with the kid who was racist to his core and who is learning this hatred from his parents while growing up in an all white town and all white school. Do you think he’s the only little racist growing up there? How does the school teach him any different? Books? It’s kinda like Christopher Paul Curtis said, “books are a start. If we see them as more than that, we’re over reaching.” Coe Booth then talked about her brother who stopped reading in the 5th grade. She writes want he might have read and wonders how different his life would be if he kept reading.

So many others over the course of the workshop– African Americans, Egyptian Americans, transsexuals, those with mental disabilities– all wondered how different their lives might be if they had met themselves in the books they read. Would they have better understood their own struggles? Felt validated? Not lived so much inside their own mind/fears/confusion?

White reads don’t wonder that.

The Furgeson Library is being filled with book donations as they remain a safe haven for the city’s children. Filling it with books about children of color won’t solve all their problems, there is no one solution to societal problems, but finding commonalities in our stories where characters look like the real world and understanding good stories will give us just a little more hope. I have no faith a room of books that is not a world of books. My responsibility is weighing heavy. To look at these things like Ferguson, to be aware of and know about these things and to do nothing? I’ve heard that called ’emotional entertainment’.

A Little Hump Day Shine

My word this year is ‘shine’. It can be so easy catching myself not shining my brightest. Typically, those are times I don’t allow others to shine. I’m too bright too dull the glow of others! (Repeating 3x daily)

Technology helps me, helps us, shine. I recently updated my iPhone to the new IOS and found that I went back to the same ol’ settings I’ve had. While I appreciate Apple making me aware of some of the new functions, I’ve found my comfort zone. But to shine like a new copper penny, when I go for the trade in, I think I’ll go ahead and make some  real changes. I’ve never really used the Passport app so, I plan to explore that and a few other options. Changing the phone around keeps the brain young!

AND!! I decided to upgrade the Nook! I love playing with new tech toys and finding new ways to locate and share information but I can be frugal, too. If it ain’t broke, why get rid of it? I hate to admit this out loud but I do still have two of the old-fashioned heavy televisions and I drive a 2000 Honda. I was so surprised to hear that cars now tell you when the air is low in your tires! Not only am I saving money by keeping what still works, but it seems like I’m still thinking for myself as well.

René Saldaña Jr. shines brilliantly over at LatinosinKidlit when he firmly states “the books are not hard to find.” I agree, Reñe! It’s old and lame to say you can’t find any Latino books. True, there are not enough, but the ones that are there can be found.

Bringing that real shine to diversity, Kathryn Allan and Djibril al-Ayad discuss their forthcoming anthology Accessing the Future which explores disability and the intersectionality of race, nationality, gender, sexuality and class. They’re raising funds through Indiegogo to get this amazing book published so, check out the interview and shine on them with a little donation to support the cause.

Cyntwe_need_diverse_books_logohia Leitich Smith Shines no matter what! Her recent blog post details the WeNeedDiverseBooks announcement to incorporate as a non-profit and its inaugural advisory board members Grace Lin, Jacqueline Woodson, Matt de la Peña, Cynthia Leitich Smith and Cindy Pon.
“Incorporating will give us the legitimacy and standing we need to move forward with our mission,” says Lamar Giles, VP of Communications. “We have many exciting projects in the works.”

On the BrownBookShelf, Sharon Flake asks about how well you shine. She asks “Are you unstoppable?”unstoppable

On September 30, 2014, my new novel, Unstoppable Octobia May, will hit bookstores nationwide.  On that day I would love you and/or the young people you influence to join me in shouting out to the world that they too are unstoppable by holding up the following sign, words, image:



Shining winners of the 2014 South Asian Book Awards

Elizabeth Suneby

Razia’s Ray of Hope: One Girl’s Dream of an Education
(Kids Can Press, 2013)

Jennifer Bradbury

A Moment Comes
(Atheneum Book, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, 2013)

2014 Honor Winner
Farhana Zia
The Garden of My Imaan
(Peachtree, 2013)

Kudos to Walter Mays, president elect of the Assembly of Literature for Adolescents of the NCTE for his efforts to bring more diversity to the ALAN workshop which will be held this November in Washington DC. Among the many outstanding authors on the roster we’ll find

Jason Reynolds

Jenny Han

Kwame Alexander

Pam Muñoz Ryan

C.J. Farley

Coe Booth

Christopher Paul Curtis

Ying Compestine

Vinson Compestine

Atia Abawi

Tanuja Desai Hidier

Patrick Flores-Scott

Kekla Magoon

G. Neri

WOW!!! W0 W!!!! I will be there! You?



ALAN pt 2

I went to ALAN this year because Lyn Miller-Lachmann (Rogue; Nancy Paulsen Books) asked me to moderate a panel with her, Kekla Magoon (The Rock and the River; Aladdin) and Rene Saldana Jr (Juventud! Growing up on the Border: Stories and Poems; VAO Publishing). entitled “It’s Complicated: Diverse Authors Revisit the Classics”. We had a nice turnout and it was great working with these talented individuals, although Rene was unfortunately detained in that terrible storm in Texas and unable to join us.

I was truly disappointed in the lack of diversity at the conference. As a new friend stated “I’m tired of the all White world of YA.” I could count on my hands the number of people of color who were present. While there those who are committed to YA and to the teens who read it, most teachers and librarians of color will choose to come only if they see people like them somewhere in the program. It makes you feel welcome, you know?

My criticism is more with the industry and how it promotes authors.

I felt quite welcome at ALAN this year as I always do.

Yea, it bothered me that after all I’d gone through to get there, the room was so packed that it seemed I’d spend the first day standing around the back of the room. But this is a conference where people talk to one another! We talk about the books, the authors, programs we’re planning, students we teach and the shoes we wear. We talk to librarians, authors, editors and university students. While we celebrated 40 years of ALAN, we listened to authors as they shared about their writing, their readers and their lives.

I hated that I missed hearing Jacqueline Woodson’s (Each Kindness, Nancy Paulsen Books) poem but I had to get Swati Avasthi’s (Chasing Shadows, Random House) autograph and arrange an interview with her!

Who was it during the Coming of Age session when talking about hope in our stories that said “It’s not the despair that gets you, it’s the hope”?

Alan Sitomer (Caged Warrior; Disney Hyperion) on the same panel postulated that “we all live on hope.” With much passion, he proclaimed that “there’s an assault on kids in urban schools today.” They’re not bright enough, not motivated enough… and this is only said about the urban kids!

Upon receiving the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award, Eliot Schrefer (Endangered; Scholastic) reflected on his visit to the Congo where he spoke to teens growing up in this war-torn country and he wondered why he was there talking to these students about books. But then, they began taking examples from his reading and applying them to situations in their country.

Fellow recipient A.S. King (Reality Boy; Little, Brown Books for Young Readers) made even more of a point about why she writes. “I need to write the air. I write because I need to. I believe in compassion and community and I’ve always wanted to live in a world where people really are equals … Writing should make us generous. You have to give up yourself to the book. Writing should change you.”

As someone who has moved over to the academic side and who teaches research to students, I really appreciated what Tanya Lee Stone (Courage has no color, the true story of the Triple Nickles: America’s first Black Paratroopers; Candlewick) had to say about research. She suggested getting young researchers to realize what they are passionate about and then figuring out what’s important about that. Passion should drive research.

I loved hearing Beth Kephart (Going Over; Chronicle Books) state that “landscape is character” because it spoke to my passion for geography  and economics in literature.

Sharon McKay (Enemy Territory; Annick Press) was amazing as she unfolded her personal story that helps her know how to be an insider when writer. “Outsiders have simple solutions.” They don’t understand a community’s complexities.

We are all writing about people in the end. We’re all writing about love in the end.” Kephart.

But readers need to find themselves in what they read. They need to be able to relate to the characters and situations.

Sara Farizan (If you could be mine: a novel; Algonquin) reflected on growing up uncomfortable with her gay identity. She found solace in reading and writing and she sought out books. While she found some with gay and lesbian characters, she couldn’t find any Middle Eastern or Asian characters who were facing obstacles like her. She decided to write one.

Authors with so many provocative thoughts!

While so many writers urge us to push the envelope and to be edgy (which we need to do because so many teen’s lives are ‘edgy’) Another perspective was presented by Carl Deuker (Swagger; Houghton Mifflin). “They grow close to 6 feet tall but they’re still very close to Charlotte’s Web”.

I wish I knew who said it!!!
“Why are books the last racial  barrier where many white kids only read about their own experience”? Neighborhoods and schools are integrated. We listen to one another’s music, so what is it about books?

I loved witnessing Paul Rudnick’s (Gorgeous; Scholastic) sheer exuberance about writing; Ann Burg’s (Sarafina’s Promise; Scholastic) commitment to truth, Robert Lipsyte’s plea for literacy over sports (where “character has become less important than characters”); Ken Setterington’s (Branded by the Pink Triangle; Second Story Press) work to preserve the pink triangle of the Holocaust and was perplexed by science fiction writings admitting the lack of science in their writing yet  managing to redeem themselves in their use of horror.

I was glad to discover a new author of color, Kendare Blake (Antigodess; Tor), a Korean American author.

As is fitting, my take-a-way came from Walter Mayes, librarian extraordinaire and the face of ALAN. Remember, ALAN is part of NCTE, so the majority of people there are teachers. Walter was part of a panel celebrating librarians and media specialists. I think he’s an incredible librarian. Well over 6 ft tall, he’s still close to Charlotte’s Web, still close to what children hold dear. Walter related a story to us.

In his library, the older students are able to speak their mind if no younger students are around. Walter’s students aren’t those urban students but they’re diverse. His library books represent diversity. He’s figured out how to give students what they’re ready for and he knew this particular 8th grade black girl was ready for pretty much the same thing her white classmates were reading until one day, she came in, looked around and said she was tired of all these books with “rich, white bitches”. Their conversation led him to make a selection for her that had her coming back, and coming back and coming back.

Walter, this tall white guy working in a library in an all girl’s school was aware enough to get that not all Black, Latino or Asian kids are able to recognize or articulate their desire for books with characters like them. I can remember Ari, Kekla and even myself being quite satisfied with reading about “rich white bitches”, but once discovering a book with a character like us, we wanted more! In our youth, we really couldn’t articulate what we wanted or why. For publishers to want students to articulate their desire for ethnic diversity in literature is absurd: they simply haven’t all reached that level of psychological development. Thankfully, many librarians get it.

ALAN was stimulating, thought-provoking and irritating. I made wonderful connections in terms of thoughts, ideas and relationships with other people. I just know that a more diverse presentation would have enriched us all so much more. The authors not being there wasn’t because ALAN didn’t invite them, it has to do with who publishers choose to market.

ALAN is very inexpensive to join. The organization is extremely inclusive and its journal is quite important to the field of YA literature. Let’s not pull away from ALAN. Only by joining such organizations and working with such allies can we get publishers to realize they’ve got to change how they market their authors of color and how they represent YA lit to readers.  We have to show up to be included. Next year’s conference will be in Washington D.C..

ALAN is the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of the National Council of Teachers of English.

ALAN pt. I

Why not go out on a limb? Isn’t that where the fruit is? – Frank Scully

2012-11-22 19.09.03

New Mexican Spice Rubbed Pork Tenderloin

Last year’s ALAN was in Vegas and I was able to stay over for Thanksgiving dinner with my son and DIL at Bob Flay’s Mesa Grill. This year it was in Boston. Although I didn’t stretch my visit into the holiday, I did have some pretty good dining experiences.

Saturday evening, I had dinner at the Parker House Restaurant with Kekla Magoon and Lisa J. of Anali’s First Amendment. While none of us really knew one another, we managed to stretch our evening into a four-hour event! Why not? Not only was it a splurge, but it was an over the top (for me!!) event! I was with Kekla and Lisa!! And, we were in the Parker House Restaurant! We knew this was where the Kennedys preferred to dine in Boston and that Malcolm X once worked here We also knew that both Parker House Rolls and Boston Creme Pie were invented here. But, the immensity of this didn’t hit home until Lisa asked if we could take photos. We meant of the food and we didn’t want to disturb others around us. It was suggested that we wait until the crowd thinned and of course to us, this meant waiting until our food (and the opportunity to photograph it) would be  gone. Yet, we complied.

Edi, Kekla and Lisa

Edi, Kekla and Lisa at Table 40

Prior to delivering the dessert, our waitress asked if we were ready for the photo by table 40 where Jack proposed to Jackie. Kennedy to Bouvier. So, yes!!! Realizing that’s what she interpreted our request for a photo to mean, we happily took photos there!

Lisa wrote a much nicer post about our evening, so do go read it. I’m sure you can relate to little evenings that become such special memories.

As incredible as that was, my visit to Boston got even bigger from there.

I went to NCTE. I went to the exhibit hall and got the first books signed that I’ll be adding to Little Bean’s library. Little Bean is myIMG_1474 first grandchild, due in May. Little Bean is the most amazing kid with an über incredible library! Though not pictured, I also got a book signed by Judy Blume for Little Bean!


Patricia MacLachlin

Patricia MacLachlin

Pat Mora

Pat Mora


E.B. Lewis


I went to ALAN.

ALAN… ALAN started on a downward slope for me. As impressive as the Omni Parker is, I was disappointed that NCTE listed it as a nearby hotel. Traveling as a single lady in a new-to-me town with windchills around -5, it was easy to slip into punk mode and get sucked into $10 cab rides. Not close! The conference room was ridiculously cramped and short on seats.

BUT!! This ALAN had complimentary coffee. There has to be a better way to refer to this beverage as is was a nectar of the goddesses! It took away any reason I had to complain. It let me stand in lines and meet new friends. It took my edge off. I’ve since visited the Au Bon Pain website and see that I can order the coffee online and I sure do plan to do that! It’s so very good!

I’ve waited days to decompress and write my ALAN reflections. When I began writing, I had no idea I’d write so much backstory! I’m going to stop here. Rumor is that people don’t like to read long passages online. I’ll finish posting about ALAN tomorrow.

Enjoy your evening!


The following are a few good ways to get involved in the dynamic world of YA.

ALAN, the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of NCTE, is seeking applicants for the position of editor of their journal, The ALAN Review.  To apply, interested persons should submit the following: a letter of application detailing qualifications for the position and the applicant’s vision for the journal, a current vita, one sample of published writing, and a letter of general support from appropriate administrators at the applicant’s institution. Classroom teachers are eligible and encouraged to apply. Applications should be sent via email, using the subject line, ALAN Editor, to Teri Lesesne, Executive Director of ALAN ( Please send files as Word attachments. Applications must be received no later than October 1, 2013. Finalist interviews will be conducted at the NCTE conference in Boston.

Note that the TAR editor receives complimentary registration to the ALAN Workshop and a stipend of $2,000 a year.

Click here for further information about the position from ALAN’s Policy & Procedure Manual.

There is still time to register for the United States Board On Books International Conference in St. Louis MO, Oct. 18-20
Speaker highlights: Ashley Bryan, Mem Fox, Gregory Maguire, Pat Mora, Katherine Paterson, Peter Sis, Jacqueline Woodson
Breakout Session highlights (and there are many more):
“Bringing the World to Your Library: Incorporating International Books into Everyday Practice”
“Diverse Voices, Digital Narratives: Connecting Children, Books, and Digital Media  to Promote Bookjoy Around the World”
“PictureBookJoy: Humor in International Picture Books”
“Depictions of African American and Black Culture in Graphic Literature”
“Hair in Children’s Literature around the World”
“BookJoy for Middle School: Poetry in Many Voices”


YALSA is seeking program proposals and paper presentations for its 2014 Young Adult Literature Symposium,Keeping it Real: Finding the True Teen Experience in YA Literature, to be held October 31 – November 2, 2014 in Austin, TX.   YALSA’s 2014 Young Adult Literature Symposium will gather together librarians, educators, researchers, authors and publishers to explore what’s ‘real’ in the world of teen literature.  In what ways is young adult literature reflecting the real and amazing diversity of today’s 42 million teens and it what ways has it fallen short?  Who are today’s teens, really?  What are the ‘real’ issues that they want and need to read about, and how do they want to read about them?  Why are realistic teen experiences in books sometimes controversial when they accurately portray a young person’s life? How are the evolving areas of identity and sex(uality) being explored in YA literature and nonfiction?  Join YALSA as we explore what is ‘real’ in young adult literature.

YALSA invites interested parties to propose 90-minute programs centering on the theme, as well as paper presentations offering new, unpublished research relating to the theme. Applications for all proposals can be found at  (click “Propose a Paper/Program”). Proposals for programs and paper presentations must be completed online by Nov. 1, 2013. Applicants will be notified of their proposals’ status the week of Jan. 12, 2014.

Important news from IBBY (International Board on Books for Young People)

In international children’s book news,  the 2013 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award,  sponsored by the Swedish government and currently the world’s largest award for children’s and young adult literature, has been presented to Isol, the Argentinian writer and illustrator of children’s books.  According to the ALMA website:  ” Isol’s great talent as a picturebook author is apparent in the overall experience created by the dramatic composition, the choice of colours and the intensity of the drawn line.”  (

IBBY has selected the next editor for Bookbird .  Dr. Bjorn Sundmark will edit the journal from 2015- 2018.  He is Associate Professor of English at the Faculty of Education, Malmo University, Sweden, and serves on the board of the Swedish National  Culture Council.

Do you ALAN?

I’ve written quite a bit about attending the ALAN conference, but never about ALAN.

ALAN is the Assembly on Literacy for Adolescents.

The Assembly on Literature for Adolescents is an independent assembly of NCTE. Founded in November 1973, ALAN is made up of teachers, authors, librarians, publishers, teacher-educators and their students, and others who are particularly interested in the area of young adult literature.

ALAN offers a wealth of opportunities to anyone interested in young adult literature. Our memberships is made up of teachers, librarians, professors, authors, publishers, agents, and anyone else who loves YA!  On the sidebar is a list of docs describing our mission, our outreach programs, our grants, our membership benefits, and our publications.

At the conferences I’ve attended, I’ve met academics, public librarians, lawyers who write YA, storytellers, teachers, publishers and authors. While I’ve been dismayed by the lack of people of color at the events, I have been impressed by their commitment to diversity.

During the conference, the following points were made.

• ALAN is looking to grow their membership. Currently, you can join for the ridiculously low fee of $20. Members receive copies of The ALAN Review.

• ALAN is looking for state representatives to work locally with members.

• There is a need for more people to review books for ALAN. The reviews appear on the ALAN website and/or in the journal.

• ALAN is making efforts to do more work with middle and high school teachers. You could be a teacher, publisher, author or student who has ideas on how this organization can provide resources for this endeavor.

ALAN maintains an online community which anyone can join. Log it, join the discussions, share your ideas and let your voice be heard! Think about going to the conference next year (Have I mentioned that you’ll receive 30 books when you attend??). Consider applying for a grant. Join! Give a friend a membership for Christmas! If you, like me want to see more books for teens of color, we both have to be more active in the YA community.

Do at least follow ALAN on Twitter and on FB

ALAN 2012

I had high expectations for ALAN because I had such a fantastic time last year. I wasn’t so sure as things began. Things began to feel so different from last year! I wasn’t ever excited about the idea of Vegas for a YAlit conference and even more so after getting here. The overpowering smell in the lobby made me sick and the walk to the convention center was too long and unnecessary. Once over there, the only amenities available were the restrooms.

I didn’t like my box of books, too much gore and romance. Too much centered on death. I had to ask myself why it’s so much easier for white readers to embrace books about serial killers rather than those by or about people of color.

I was so disappointed to see fewer than a dozen people of color in the audience and it seemed that even fewer authors were there as well.

I didn’t see anyone I knew and wasn’t connecting with anyone on Twitter. But then, @YABookBridges , someone I’d tweeted with since the last ALAN, contacted me to meet up for lunch and it was nothing but uphill from there.

I had so many wonderful encounters with authors! Because of this blog, those I connect with most are authors of color, however please do not think that I was not impressed to be in the same room with Lois Lowry, Sonya Sones, Blue Balliett, Anita Silvey and Lauren Myracle. Yes, I continue to be impressed by the strong presence of the many voices created for young women in YA, this year particularly through Raina Telgemeier and Faith Erin Hicks. I want to be more like Patricia McCormick, Deborah Ellis and Eric Walters. Sure, it would be wonderful to be able to tell other’s stories with such eloquence, but I’d settle with having their drive to make a difference.

Mike Mullin and Isamu Fukui spoke about empowering students to become writers by letting them write whatever they want. And, that’s what someone did for Gaby Rodriguez. Through her senior project, she went from being a young girl who was afraid she’d never amount to being anything to being a young woman so in control of her own destiny that she became an inspiration for others.

Interestingly, the most diverse panel was “Dystopia” with Isamu Fukui, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Mike Mullin and Marie Lu. I had to smile when Johnson said her book was inspired by Bahia, Brasil because my blog banner is from a quilt shop there.  I did get a copy of her book and plan to review it and hopefully interview her soon.

Sharon Flake was there when the announcement was made that Pinned made it to Kirkus’ Best Children’s Books of 2012 list.

My first breakout session explored the literary aesthetic in Indian, Black and Latino literature was… interesting. My mind couldn’t get much past hearing someone say she was going to describe the aesthetics of Black literature having no had no personal with the culture, but having read one article.

I could have listened to Ann Angel, J.L. Powers and Varian Johnson for hours more. They come from places of authentic interactions with people who are culturally different from themselves but they see and dwell in the similarities. They write to overcome barriers. For Powers, its in stories of war, for Angel its biographic narratives and for Johnson, its sexuality. It was all about social justice.

I’m still in Vegas doing the tourist thing!

This past year, I’ve noted a rapid decline in the number of books published by YA authors of color while the number of YA books in general is increasing. Few people of color attended this conference and indeed the number of POC authors was down as well. What is happening? How do we keep our voice in the mix?

I did have a great time at ALAN and my mind is exploding with ideas of what I want to do next. I went to Vegas alone and came back with so many new friends, new books and new ideas! It’s all about who did show up.