Saturday, April 26, 2008

Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis

Winner of the 2008 Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction
Winner of the 2008 Coretta Scott King Book Award
A 2008 Newbery Honor Book

"I also saw she didn't have no clothes on 'cepting a rag hanging 'cross one of her shoulders... There were thick bands of iron hugged 'round her ankles connecting up to some locks and chains that were keeping her where she was at...

The rest of 'em were men and they waren't wearing nothing atall, not even a rag. Their ankles were covered with the same kind of thick iron shackles as the woman's...

Ma and Pa and all the growned folks in the Settlement had told us plenty of stories 'bout folks in chains afore, and a couple of people in Buxton even have thick, shiny scars on their ankles and wrists from wearing 'em. But seeing the chains real waren't the kind of thing you could imagine. It waren't the kind of picture that words could paint.

Maybe the growned folks were trying not to scare us when they told stories 'bout folks being chained up, 'cause judging by the way these people looked, I knowed we waren't getting the whole story."

This book made my heart stop. It reminded me of oppression all over the world - past and present. It reminded me to count my blessings. Elijah of Buxton is about slavery and the different attitudes towards slavery. Elijah of Buxton is about escape, freedom, and hope - and the different attitudes towards escape, freedom, and hope.

Christopher Paul Curtis takes us back to 1860 and life in Buxton, Canada, a settlement of runaway slaves. He tells the story of the Buxton community from the point of view of sharp-minded eleven-year-old Elijah Freeman, the first child born into freedom in Buxton. Because of Mr. Curtis's linguistic genius, Elijah and all the other characters and all their voices are amazingly real. This novel is an interesting story about a child's life of liberty on the Settlement and an adventure that takes him to the U.S. and makes sure that he will never take his liberty for granted.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Poetry Friday: Not They Who Soar by Paul Laurence Dunbar

Not they who soar, but they who plod
Their rugged way, unhelped, to God
Are heroes; they who higher fare,
And, flying, fan the upper air,
Miss all the toil that hugs the sod.
'Tis they whose backs have felt the rod,
Whose feet have pressed the path unshod,
May smile upon defeated care,
Not they who soar.

High up there are no thorns to prod,
Nor boulders lurking 'neath the clod
To turn the keenness of the share,
For flight is ever free and rare;
But heroes they the soil who've trod,
Not they who soar!

I just finished reading Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis - a historical novel about eleven-year-old Elijah, the first child born into freedom in Buxton, Canada, a settlement of runaway slaves. I want to share "Not They Who Soar" by Paul Laurence Dunbar because it is a very fitting tribute to slaves who escaped into freedom and congregated in such communities as Buxton.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Curse of Addy McMahon by Katie Davis

I will have the privilege of interviewing Katie Davis very, very soon. Watch out for that post! For now, let me whet your kid literary appetites with this article about Ms. Davis' latest book, The Curse of Addy McMahon.

The Curse of Addy McMahon
By Katie Davis
Publisher: Greenwillow
ISBN-10: 0061287113
Price: $16.99

Fairies Deserve Responsibility For Author’s Idea

Hopefully the fairies will be happy with Katie Davis for writing The Curse of Addy McMahon. You never know with fairies though. After all, New York Times reporter James F. Clarity, wrote an article in 1999, focusing on a situation in Latoon, Ireland, in which a storyteller was trying to warn local officials about potential danger. He told them if they bulldozed the white-blossomed hawthorn bush which stood in the way of a planned highway bypass, the fairies would curse the road and all who used it. The bush, it turned out, was rumored to be a fairy lair.

“I loved that article,” Ms. Davis explains. “I immediately imagined an Irish-American girl whose family lore revolved around how great-great-grandad chopped down a fairy lair back in Ireland, lo those many generations ago. It was a family joke, but what if she still had some magical thinking going on? She might blame the curse for all the crummy stuff in her life and wouldn’t take responsibility for the havoc she herself may have created.” And so The Curse of Addy McMahon was born.

As Ms. Davis says, “It actually wasn’t born that easily. At first it had a different title, and there really were fairies in the story. Luckily I have good critical readers, and when it was suggested I take all the fantasy out, I realized it should be a story of Addy’s relationships, and her struggle to learn when to take responsibility for the things she’s done, and just as importantly, to not take responsibility when things aren’t her fault.”

“But the book isn’t just a novel,” explains Greenwillow editor Steve Geck. “It’s a hybrid: part traditional novel, part graphic novel. Addy writes and illustrates her diary as a graphic novel, and that’s integrated throughout the book. Though Katie’s been working on this for so long, it’s great timing because all of a sudden, it seems everywhere you turn, there is good news about graphic novels and comic books in terms of their educational value.”

In fact, just recently the New York Times published an article supporting comic strips as “an alternative pathway to literacy.” The State Education Department in Maryland, it stated, is expanding a new comics-based literacy curriculum, and various organizations have been created that use comics to engage kids in reading and writing, such as the Comic Book Project, and the non-profit Kids Love Comics, which is helping to create seminars like “Turning Your Real-Life Experiences into Comics,” and classes for teachers and librarians such as “Comics & Literacy: Using Comics and Graphic Novels in the Classroom/Library.”

It’s no new thing for Katie Davis, though. “I’ve been conducting workshops at schools and conferences that connect illustrating and storytelling to literacy for years. Usually I’m invited to elementary schools, since my other books have been for younger audiences. I’m excited about doing different kinds of presentations with older kids, getting them to make their own autobiogra-stripsTM, like Addy does in my book.”

Davis hopes “it will help kids get excited about reading, and writing, and the whole creative process.” To get them hooked, she’s created an animated book trailer, which is available on youtube and other video sites, as well as at

The Philippine Newbery Project

What if I could create my very own children's literature society? What if I could create a children's book fan club?

I would form The Philippine Newbery Project! (Yes, name totally inspired by the Newbery Project :o).) The Newbery Medal is awarded annually by the American Library Association for the most distinguished American children's book published the previous year. Newbery committees also cite other books as worthy of attention, and these books are the Newbery Honor Books. My best friends and I love Newbery books. We've been imagining our very own book club for them!

I would be the president of the Philippines Newbery Project, and Isaac would be the vice president. He helped me conceptualize the project. Thank you, Isaac! So far the other members would be CY and my younger brother Brian (he's also nuts about Newbery books). Membership is open to all Filipino lovers of Newbery books. :o)

What would be the objectives of the group?

1. To read all Newbery Medal winners and Newbery Honor books.

2. To study and discuss all Newbery Medal winners and Newbery Honor books.

3. To use Newbery books to help promote the love of reading among young Filipinos.

We would read a different Newbery book every two weeks and then meet to discuss the book. Members will take turns facilitating meetings. The facilitator of a meeting must be ready with discussion questions and must be ready to share background information on the book and its author. The facilitator is also in charge of making sure the conversation does not stray into other topics. (Who knows what will happen when friends and family get together!)

As much as possible, each meeting will be creative and will try to incorporate an element from the book being discussed. Some examples: The discussion on From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg will be in a museum cafe. And we can go through the museum together after the discussion! We can go to a Japanese restaurant to reflect together on Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata. We can catch a baseball game together and eat butterscotch ice cream before talking about Penny from Heaven by Jennifer Holm. For the discussion on Holes by Louis Sachar, we can have a picnic at a nearby lake. The fun possibilities are endless!

We'll have book shopping days together. We'll watch movies inspired by Newbery books. We'll put up a group blog to share our club's experiences and insights with the rest of the world. We'll have lots of parties: parties to celebrate new Newbery books, birthday parties for members, holiday parties - like Halloween parties where we'll dress up as our favorite characters from Newbery books!

We'll also try our very best to give back to our communities. We want to donate Newbery books to schools. We want to visit schools to give booktalks on Newbery books. We want to coordinate with schools to help facilitate students' activities and discussions about Newbery books. We (so far all the members have teaching experience!) also want to provide free teacher training on how teachers can use Newbery books for their reading and writing classes.

Isn't it so nice to dream? :o)

Friday, April 18, 2008

Fusion Stories

I want to share this press release about new novels for young readers to celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (May 2008). This is exciting stuff! :o)

Ten new contemporary novels by Asian Americans aren’t traditional tales set in Asia nor stories about coming to America for the first time. They’re written by authors who understand two-time Newbery Honor Book author Lawrence Yep’s (Dragonwings and Dragon’s Gate) removal of the ethnic qualifier before his vocation. “I think of myself principally as a writer,” Yep told the International Reading Association’s The Dragon Lode. “I often write about my experiences as a Chinese American, but I’ve also written about faraway worlds. Writing is a special way of seeing.”

Without a doubt, an Asian American vision has moved into the mainstream of the children’s literary world. In 1994, only 65 of the 5,500 children’s books published featured Asian American authors. Last year, that number doubled. Some of these have become national bestsellers that are guaranteed a place on bookshelves for years to come. Linda Sue Park (A Single Shard) and Cynthia Kadohata (Kira Kira) each won the prestigious Newbery Medal, while Allen Say (Grandfather’s Journey) took home a Caldecott Prize. An Na (A Step From Heaven) won the Printz, an award for young adult novels, and Gene Luen Yang garnered a National Book Award for his graphic novel, American Born Chinese.

In 2008, a wave of middle grade novels (ages 7-11) written by Asian Americans is already catching the attention of readers, teachers, librarians, and parents – and not just within multicultural circles. Children’s literature experts are calling Grace Lin’s Year of the Rat (sequel to the popular Year of the Dog) a “classic in the making” along the lines of Besty-Tacy. Janet Wong’s forthcoming novel Minn and Jake's Almost Terrible Summer explores the joys of vacation and friendship, with Jake divulging that he’s a “quarpa,” or one-quarter Korean. Winner of the Sid Fleischman humor award, author Lisa Yee makes kids (and adults) laugh out loud with bestselling stories like Millicent Min: Girl Genius and her newest title, Good Luck, Ivy. When it comes to books like these, as Newbery winner Linda Sue Park told author Cynthia Leitich Smith (Tantalize) during an on-line chat: “At last it seems we’re getting ready to go to stories where a person’s ethnicity is a part but not the sum of them.”

New releases for teens, too, aren’t mainly immigrant stories or traditional tales retold. These YA novels deal with universal themes such as a straight-A teen struggling with a cheating scandal at her school (She’s So Money by Cherry Cheva), a promising athlete coping with a snowboarding injury (Girl Overboard by Justina Chen Headley), and a Pakistani-born blogger whose father is about to become President (First Daughter: White House Rules by Mitali Perkins). An Na’s The Fold, a novel about a teen considering plastic surgery to change the shape of her eyelids, speaks to all who long to be beautiful, and art-loving teens far and wide will connect with Joyce Lee Wong’s novel-in-verse Seeing Emily. Paula Yoo, a one-time writer for People magazine and television hits like The West Wing, fuses her pop culture savvy and love of music in Good Enough, a novel about a violinist in rebellion. Her brother, David Yoo, connected with hormone-crazed nerds of every race in his funny novel Girls For Breakfast and is offering his fans the forthcoming Stop Me if You've Heard This One Before.

Founder of readergirlz, a literacy initiative for teens, award-winning author Justina Chen Headley notes that these books are relished by readers from many different backgrounds. “There are a ton of interesting cultural trends that make it cool to read about Asian American characters,” she says. “Take manga and anime, for instance. Or Gwen Stefani’s harujuku girls. Mainstream, popular celebrities from actors to athletes are Asian American, and this is filtering into YA and middle grade novels.”

Dr. Sylvia Vardell, Ph.D., a professor at the School of Library and Information Services at Texas Woman’s University, isn’t surprised either by the growing appetite for books featuring protagonists of every race: “Most kids live with ethnic and cultural diversity everyday. It just makes sense that books for teens would reflect this too.”

These stories continue to resonate with Asian American readers as well. Lisa Yee remembers the frustration of not finding many books about American girls like her. “When I grew up, there was no fiction featuring contemporary Asian Americans, unless of course the book was about the struggle of immigrants,” she says. Thanks to exciting changes in children’s book publishing, it’s a different world for today’s young readers of every cultural heritage with many choices when it comes to novels.

This year’s Asian Pacific American Heritage Month begins May 1, 2008, and ten authors are banding together to offer FUSION STORIES, a menu of delectable next-gen hot-off-the-press novels for middle readers and young adults. FUSION STORIES' critically acclaimed authors so far include Cherry Cheva (Los Angeles, CA), Justina Chen Headley (Seattle, WA), Grace Lin (Boston, MA), An Na (Montpelier, VT), Mitali Perkins (Boston, MA), Janet Wong (Princeton, NJ), Joyce Lee Wong (Los Angeles, CA), Lisa Yee (South Pasadena, CA), David Yoo (Boston, MA), and Paula Yoo (Los Angeles, CA).

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Not for the Faint of Heart: Boy Toy by Barry Lyga

2007 Cybils Winner for Young Adult Novels

When Joshua Mendel was twelve years old, he was molested by Mrs. Evelyn Sherman, his young and beautiful seventh grade history teacher. Now eighteen and graduating from high school, Josh is still coming to grips with what happened. He has the concerns of a typical teenager: college, grades, sports, girls, friends, family, and money. But overriding them all is the issue of healing from sexual abuse. He physically, emotionally, and mentally suffers from memories of the past. Does anyone truly heal from sexual abuse?

Barry Lyga is a great writer (in fact, I am eager to read his other works) and he tells this disturbing yet fascinating and engrossing story through Josh's present-day narrative, full flashbacks, flickers of memory, and transcripts of Josh's therapy sessions.

Boy Toy is shocking, controversial, explicit, and powerful. In his official website, Lyga says he wrote Boy Toy because he "realized that in almost every teacher sex scandal, there's one person we never hear from - the kid involved. That's because the kids are minors, so they're protected. They don't get their names in the paper or on TV and that's great, but that also means that we never know what their opinions are. So I thought it was time to give a (fictional) voice to those kids." As a result, the novel is a heart wrenching story about the victim's shame and confusion, innocence and guilt, doubts and insights. It is about the victim's frustration and pain because no one understands him and no one ever will. Boy Toy also deeply explores other questions raised by teacher sex scandals: Was parental negligence a factor? What were the motives of the sex offender? How did the teacher manipulate certain situations and abuse authority to take advantage of the student's innocence? Why do many of the victims refuse to testify against their abuser? Isn't the victim "raped" twice - the second time from the police interrogations, time in court, and media coverage? Boy Toy delved into all this and more aspects of sexual abuse.

This is a story that has scarred me for life. But that's a good thing. This story tunnelled its way into my head and heart. Here is a frightening, in-your-face reflection of REALITY that makes you stop and think and feel and learn.

Monday, April 07, 2008

I've been waiting for this...

The March-April edition of The Edge of the Forest, a monthly online journal devoted to children's literature, is now up. Check it out! I'm going to check it out myself. :o)

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

An Oldie, But a Goodie

Are you up for a game? In the mood for a good mystery? Then I highly recommend you read the 1979 Newbery Award winner, The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin!

The Westing Game

Number of players: 16, divided into 8 pairs

Madame Hoo (cook) & Jake Wexler (podiatrist)
Turtle Wexler (junior high school student) & Flora Baumbach (dressmaker)
Chris Theodorakis (birdwatcher) & Denton Deere (intern)
Sandy McSouthers (doorman) & J.J. Ford (judge)
Grace Wexler (decorator) & James Hoo (restaurateur)
Berthe Erica Crow (cleaning woman) & Otis Amber (delivery boy)
Theo Theodorakis (high school senior) & Doug Hoo (high school senior)
Sydelle Pulaski (secretary) & Angela Wexler (fiancee)

Each pair will receive: $10,000 and one set of clues. No two sets of clues are alike.

Players will be given two days' notice of the next session. Each pair may then give one answer.

Object of the game: To win $200 million, find out which of the players murdered millionaire Sam Westing!

Bonus round: Some players are not who they say they are, and some are not who they seem to be. One is a bookie, one is a burglar, one is a bomber, and one is a mistake. Who are these people?

This is a fast-paced read that I could not put down. I had fun trying to solve the puzzle myself. The winners of the Westing contest are: one of the players (find out who) and you - the reader!

A special thank you to one of my best friends, Isaac, for inviting me to play the Westing game. :)