Sunday, July 31, 2016

Books are more than mirrors or windows

Diverse books, we often hear, are mirrors in which readers may see themselves reflected; or windows through which readers may glimpse differences.
I understand and respect these metaphors. But to me, books are neither mirrors nor windows.  They are the keys to much, much more. To something broader and deeper than just recognizing oneself or peeking at someone else.
They are much more, as I have repeatedly said in my talks for some years now, and most recently mentioned at ALA and then at Oakland University.
They are a magical means of transport, transcendence and transformation.
When you read a wonderful book, you never see yourself. You may see someone similar, perhaps, someone who resembles you a little, outwardly or inwardly, but that's just superficial.
Your soul shouldn't be standing still when you read - your soul should move.
When you read a marvelous book, you don't just peer through a window.  Words touch you, grip you, and don't let go of you.
Your senses - all your senses are captive. Your body is consumed. You are on a glorious voyage, a voyage of the imagination, a voyage of thought, a voyage of love.
You enter the hearts and minds of characters. You live another life for a while. You see through their eyes. You feel how they they feel. You breathe with them and they breathe through you.
You don't just inhabit the protagonist's world, you inhabit the protagonist's soul.
And when you return from the book to your own world, your reality will have changed. You shall be changed.
You will be more compassionate, more empathetic.
That's why I write.
Not to teach, because books aren't teaching tools. But they are learning tools, nonetheless.
Through a book, you learn. Not learning in the sense of gaining knowledge, but the truest, deepest way to learn, which is to understand difference, to be - not just with but actually be -  someone else for a time, and through this to grow.
A good book shows you what love is. It is a tool fashioned by the most beautiful human impulse - compassion.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

On the Nerdy Website!

Delighted and so deeply honored to be featured by the Nerdy Book Club:

Monday, May 02, 2016

Hearing Voices

At the NESCBWI writing conference, I did a whopping 3 workshops, all on one day. Some highlights below.

I rather intensely dislike all things electronic, so I admit I don't blog, tweet, fb, link in, etc. etc. as much as I ought, but something I love intensely is to be able to help other writers out, in real life, in the flesh, in person. And I feel so happy and grateful every time I get the chance to do this, as I did, this weekend, at NE SCBWI. 

Every time I see someone out there whose eyes are so hopeful, someone I am able to reach out to, some aspiring writer whom I can assist in some small way, it makes me feel more alive, more grounded, and more inspired. I felt like I was able to give a lot more than my usual number of short pep talks to as yet unpublished writers during the past three days, and this alone, if nothing else, made me happier than I can express.

Below are a few points from the workshop I did on "voice" - along with a list of books I recommended. There are so many marvelous examples of voice, though, so this is just an eclectic list of what popped into my mind as I was planning my talk. 

Voice, to me, is flavor. It's not about accurately reproducing the way someone speaks (I know no one who speaks with the fluidity of a written voice); it's about effectively conveying insights into characters, about capturing time and place in a manner that's unique. Each writer, each character has a voice that is - or should - reflect their individuality. Listen all you can - but learn, don't try to repeat what you've heard precisely on the page. To me, it's a little like making tea. Your first draft probably contains all the elements of voice, but just as you need to toss out the teabag once the flavor's steeped into the water, you need to cut away words/phrases/sentences/paragraphs that don't fit the voice you've chosen for your story. Voice is choice. Voice influences, but doesn't dictate subject matter. Literary novels are often written in lyrical voices (whether they're lush and rich or lean and spare) and a literary voice pairs well with quieter novels. That doesn't mean, of course, a literary novel cannot have a lot of action. I remember how surprised - and thrilled - I was when one of the starred reviews of ISLAND'S END referred to its "heart-stopping action" !

Novels I referred to during my talk, including my own:
Realistic/Contemporary: Speak, What Jamie Saw, Maniac McGee, A Time to Dance, all Sarah Pennypacker's Clementine books, Paula Danzider's Amber Brown books
Fairytale/Fablelike Voice: The Underneath, Island's End, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, The Wind in the Willows, The House at Pooh Corner
Fantasies rich in detail: Inkheart, Tuck Everlasting, Redwall, Eragon, The Lord of the Rings, The Narnia Series
Literary Sci-fi: The House of the Scorpion, The Giver, Flowers for Algernon
Historical Fiction: Climbing the Stairs, Chains, Elijah of Buxton, Daughter of Venice Catherine, Called Birdy, The Gift of Sarah Baker, Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry
Nonfiction: Most Dangerous, Symphony for the city of the dead, Tracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam and the Science of Ocean Motion, Feathers: Not Just for Flying

Verse novels set outside the United States that Holly Thompson and I referred to in our session: 
Helen Frost's The Braid, Meg Wivott's Paper Hearts, Mariko Nagai's Dust of Eden, Maria Testa's Something about America, Joyce Lee Wong's Seeing Emily, Steve Herrick's By the River, Andrea Davis Pinkney's The Red Pencil, Terry Farish's The Good Braider, Stephanie Hemphill's Sisters of Glass, Dana Walrath's Like Water on Stone, Margarita Engle's The Poet Slave of Cuba and Enchanted Air, Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu's Somewhere Among, Sarah Crossan's The Weight of Water, Thanha Lai's Inside Out and Back Again, Leza Lowitz's Up from the Sea, Melanie Crowder's Audacity, Skila Brown's Caminar, Jennifer Roy's Yellow Star, Marilyn Hilton's Full Cicada Moon, Juan Felipe Herrera's Downtown Boy, Ching Yeung Russel's Tofu Quilt, Holly Thompson's Falling Into the Dragon's Mouth, Orchards, and the Language Inside, and of course, my A TIME TO DANCE.

Novels featuring characters with disabilities that Amitha Knight, Carrie Banks and I mentioned during our session: A Time to Dance, of course, and Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman, Tending to Grace by Kimberley Newton Fusco, Me and Rupert Goody by Barbara O'Connor, The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, El Deafo by Cece Bell, The Memory of Light by Francisco Stork, Rogue by Lynn Miller Lachmann, When Reason Breaks by Cindy Rodriguez, on the Edge of Gone by Corrine Duyvis. A nonfiction title that we mentioned was  Including the Families of Children with Special Needs by Carrie Banks. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Tolerance versus Acceptance

At a recent panel discussion with wonderful authors Dana Levy and Susan Ross, I spoke about tolerance versus acceptance. I've started writing an essay on this topic, but here are some quick thoughts:

We often expound on the virtues of tolerance, but really, don't we want to do more than merely "tolerate" those whom we deem to be different from us in some way or another? To tolerate someone implies that we're irritated by them or that we dislike their views - but despite this deep-rooted sense that they aren't quite right, we do our best to co-exist with them. It's a live and let-live policy.

To accept someone is to embrace them - or at least to warmly shake hands with them - although we mayn't agree with them. Acceptance implies equality. I think that if we're truly to promote diverse books, we need to accept one another, taking a step or two beyond mere tolerance.

At a workshop later, I also mentioned diverse books that I've read and enjoyed. In some cases, I can't judge authenticity; all I can say is that I liked them. I also mentioned some websites that I think serve as extremely useful resources: Cynthia Leitich Smith's Blog; Deb Reese's Blog; The Primary Source Website, The Global Library; Disability in Kid's Lit, and of course, the We Need Diverse Books website. The books I mentioned were:

Novels on the Disability Experience: 

The Sound of All Things
Out of My Mind
The Black Book of Colors
Challenger Deep
The War That Saved My Life
Me and Rupert Goody
Tending to Grace
On the Edge of Reason
El Deafo - a marvelous
 graphic novel 

Authors writing from outside a culture:
The Language Inside
A Path of Stars
The Good Braider
22 cents: The Story of Mohammed Younis
The Red Pencil
Many Stones

Authors writing about their cultures and diversity within a culture:
First Nations - Joseph Bruchac, Deb Reese, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Shonto Begay
Cuban-American - Margarita Engle, Alma Ada Flor, Richard Blanco
African-American Authors whose work is remarkable but for some reason don't seem to be read as widely and as often as I'd expect: Brenda Woods, Nikki Grimes, Marilyn Nelson (despite a Newberry and a National Book Award, her amazing work for children and young adults seems relatively unknown)

Intersectionality: When Reason Breaks, God Loves Hair, The Memory of Light

Global Narratives: Tofu Quilt, Little Green, Yellow Star, Like Water on Stone, Dust of Eden