Sunday, May 31, 2009

The May 2009 Blog Carnival of Children's Literature

Hello, hello! Welcome to this month's edition of the Carnival of Children's Literature. :D Below you will find links to some of the best May blog posts on children's literature. Enjoy!

Excellent book reviews that will make you want to read the book:

Becky reviews Where's Tumpty by Polly Dunbar at Young Readers.

Susan Stephenson reviews How to Heal a Broken Wing by Bob Graham at The Book Chook.

Janelle reviews Before You Were Here, Mi Amor by Samantha Vamos and Santiago Cohen at Brimful Curiosities.

Lee Wind reviews 10,000 Dresses by Marcus Ewert and Rex Ray at I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the Hell do I read?.

Nancy Arruda reviews Cycle of Rice, Cycle of Life: A Story of Sustainable Farming by Jan Reynolds at Bees Knees Reads.

Mary Ann Scheuer reviews A Life in the Wild: George Schaller's Struggle to Save the Last Great Beasts by Pamela S. Turner at Great Kid Books.

Z-Dad and his three kids review Mommy Poems by John Micklos, Jr. and Lori McElrath-Eslick at Bookie Woogie.

Steven Bush reviews Frankie Pickle and the Closet of Doom by Eric Wight at Book Dads.

Lori Calabrese reviews Hiromi's Hands by Lynne Barasch at Lori Calabrese Writes!.

Kate Coombs reviews The Big Orange Splot by Daniel M. Pinkwater, The Araboolies of Liberty Street by Sam Swope and Barry Root, Cosmo’s Moon by Devin Scillian and Mark Braught, and The Boy Who Grew Flowers by Jen Wojtowicz and Steve Adams at Book Aunt.

Eva Mitnick reviews The Enchanted Castle by E. Nesbit at Eva's Book Addiction.

Sarah reviews Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett and Brett Helquist at In Need Of Chocolate.

Nymeth reviews The Savage by David Almond and Dave McKean at things mean a lot.

Jackie Parker reviews Getting the Girl: A Guide to Private Investigation, Surveillance, and Cookery by Susan Juby at Interactive Reader.

Andromeda Jazmon reviews A Wish After Midnight by Zetta Elliot at a wrung sponge.

Jennifer Roland reviews The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan at Pop Culture Curmudgeon.

Enjoyable and enlightening author profiles:

Jama Rattigan puts a spotlight on author/illustrator Allen Say at jama rattigan's alphabet soup.

Becky interviews Carol Lynch Williams at Becky's Book Reviews.

Terry Doherty interviews Laurel Snyder at Scrub-a-Dub-Tub.

Melissa Wiley interviews Stephanie Spinner at Here in the Bonny Glen.

Insightful reading experiences:

Carmela Martino shares This Is My Brain—This Is My Brain On Books--by April Halprin Wayland at Teaching Authors.

Jen Robinson shares Outdoor Reading at Booklights . PBS Parents | PBS. She also shares her most recent outdoor reading photo here.

Great resources:

Anastasia Suen shares a word choice mini lesson in What Can You Do with a Paleta? at Picture Book of the Day.

Jenny Schwartzberg traces the history of ghosts in children's books in Thinking about Ghosts at Jenny's Wonderland of Books.

Fun videos:

Sonja Cole booktalks Chu Ju's House by Gloria Whelan at Bookwink.

Elizabeth O. Dulemba presents My School Visit on YouTube! at

Lynn E. Hazen presents Make a Cool SHIFTY CARD at Imaginary Blog.

Jon Bard presents 4 Rules Beginning Kids' Book Writers Should Never Break at Children's Writing Web Journal.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Shanghai Messenger

Each page in Shanghai Messenger (Lee & Low Books, 2005) has red Chinese screens framing poetry by Andrea Cheng and art by Ed Young. This beautiful picture book for children in the third to sixth grades tells the story of Chinese American Xiao Mei's first trip to China to visit her relatives.

I see my face
in the rice water,
two braids
hanging down,
fuzzy curls
all around,
half Chinese
half not.
In China
will people stare
at my eyes
with green flecks
like Dad's?
Will they ask
why didn't Grandmother
teach me Chinese?

Cheng's stirring free verse poems evoke Xiao Mei's fear about traveling to China all by herself, and her doubts from being surrounded by a language, people, and lifestyle that are strange to her. We also see Xiao Mei's love for her life in Shanghai really grow. When she returns to Ohio, Xiao Mei misses all of her relatives and longs for her family in America and her family in China to be together.

Young's spot illustrations in pastel, ink, dye, charcoal, and Conte crayon are impressionistic. They are sublime, effectively evoking all of Xiao Mei's conflicting feelings. How does he do that?

I believe that in Shanghai Messenger, Cheng and Young truly capture the beautiful yet complicated bond a young Asian American has with her Asian motherland.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Author Interview: Dorina K. Lazo Gilmore

I am BURSTING with a lot of pride again today. Today I am chatting with Dorina K. Lazo Gilmore, author of the picture book Cora Cooks Pancit (illustrated by Kristi Valiant and published by Shen's Books this year). :D

Hi, Dorina! Welcome! Can you please tell us about your Asian American heritage?

I am a second generation Filipino-Italian American. My grandparents on my dad’s side emigrated from the Philippines to Hawaii. My grandpa, Frank Lazo, emigrated when he was a teenager to Hawaii where he later met his bride, Cora Taclindo. As I was growing up my grandparents and my dad were my link to my Asian heritage. My grandparents were instrumental in helping many other family members immigrate to the United States from the Philippines. They adopted the Hawaiian spirit of aloha and embraced people of all cultures. They celebrated both Filipino and Hawaiian culture through food, music and dance, passing this heritage on to the next generations.

What motivates you to write books for children?

I have wanted to write books for children since I was a child. Today, I am motivated by the idea that children need to see themselves in books. I grew up in a multicultural family and I believe there is a need for today’s young reader to have more exposure to multicultural stories and books with multi-ethnic protagonists. I also write books because I love my own children and desire to create stories they can treasure in the future.

What inspired you to write Cora Cooks Pancit? Why did you choose pancit over all the other yummy Filipino dishes?

I love to cook and consider myself an (amateur) multicultural chef. I originally set out to write a cookbook about traditional foods made in different cultures. I interviewed many people and families in my community. One woman I interviewed in Fresno was Rebecca Torosian. She is a Filipina married to an Armenian and she and her husband own Tory Farms. Rebecca told me some of her family’s heritage and about her father being a cook for the Filipino farmworkers. I used pieces of Rebecca’s story and fused it with my own experience growing up in the kitchen with my grandma Cora. Grandma’s specialties were pancit, chicken adobo, tanghon and lumpia. I chose to write a book about pancit because I knew it was a dish made all over the Philippines. The noodles give it universal appeal. My grandma is gone now and it was important to me to preserve the family recipe and the memory of cooking with Grandma Cora.

Cora Cooks Pancit is a lot about a mother-daughter relationship. What is your strongest or favorite memory in the kitchen with your mother? What is your strongest or favorite memory in the kitchen with your children?

My mother is a fabulous cook. She is 100% Italian and I think of her as a food artist because her creative juices really flow in the kitchen. I literally grew up in the kitchen doing the “kids jobs” mentioned in my book like drawing in the flour and licking the spoons and learning the “grown-up jobs” like chopping, stirring and sautéing. My girls are 3 years old and 3 months old and they are growing up in the kitchen with me too. My creative muse is food and it often inspires my writing. One of my favorite memories with my daughter, Meilani, is making homemade pizza. We mix the dough, roll it out and decorate it with our homemade sauce and favorite toppings. Meilani is already doing the “grown-up jobs.”

What are the challenges and rewards of being an Asian American children's book writer?

So far the challenges of being an Asian American children’s book writer are really the challenges any writer experiences. I struggle with finding time to write and staying focused, especially since I have young children. The children’s book market is very competitive right now, which means another challenge is constantly researching the market, honing my craft and sending manuscripts out to publishers when so many are competing for the same spots. I’ve never been labeled an Asian American children’s book writer before because my heritage is multi-ethnic. I feel honored to be considered one. My greatest reward is sharing stories about my Asian heritage with children and watching them connect and identify with my experience. I love watching children’s eyes light up at the illustrations in this latest book and hearing them say, “I love pancit” or “My grandma makes pancit.”

Do you celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month? How are you celebrating it this year?

I am celebrating this year by sharing my book “Cora Cooks Pancit” with friends and family. The book provides an opportunity to talk about Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. I’m also making an extra effort to share books by Asian authors with my daughters. We also take every opportunity in my family to celebrate with food so we will be making lots of Asian food this month!

What kind of young reader were you? What were your favorite books? Who were your favorite authors?

I was a voracious reader. I was content to read, read and read some more. I read everything I could get my hands on. My mom was a teacher and she always made sure to supply me with good books. I wasn’t much into fantasy but I loved the Chronicles of Narnia series. My mom started reading it aloud to me when I was four and it opened such a world of imagination. She also recited poetry to me before bed and this was the beginning of words and rhymes dancing in my head. Needless to say, the words have never stopped dancing!

My favorite authors included Toni Morrison, Julia Alvarez, Robert Frost, C.S. Lewis, Amy Tan, Madeline L’Engle, Louisa May Alcott, Langston Hughes, and many more.

What are your favorite Asian or Asian American children's books?

Some of my favorites include:

“Dumpling Soup” by Jama Kim Rattigan

“Baseball Saved Us” by Ken Mochizuki

“Hula Lullaby” by Erin Eitter Kono

“Lakas and the Manilatown Fish” by Anthony D. Robles

“Kimchi and Calamari” by Rose Kent

“Dragonwings” by Laurance Yep

What children's books are you reading now?

My daughter and I go to the library weekly and we are always reading new books. We just checked out “El Barrio” by Debbi Chocolate, “Nuestra California” by Pam Munoz Ryan, and “Math Attack” by Joan Horton. I’m reading “Stella Stands Alone” by Alexandria LaFaye. I love middle grade and young adult fiction – anything by Gary Schmidt or Han Nolan.

What are you working on now?

I am working on another picture book about a Filipino child learning to dance the traditional dance called the “tinikling.” I’m also trying my hand at a young adult novel about a multiracial girl growing up in a pizzeria in Chicago.

Tinikling!!! I used to dance tinikling. It's my absolute favorite Filipino dance. :D I can't wait to read that picture book. And I know I'll have fun reading a young adult novel about a multiracial girl growing up in a pizzeria.

I wish you all the best, Dorina! Thank you very much for joining the Asian Pacific American Heritage Month celebration here at Into the Wardrobe.

Readers, click here to read Dorina's blog. Click here to read Jama Kim Rattigan's review of Cora Cooks Pancit and interview with illustrator Kristi Valiant!

P.S. I had pancit today! LOL.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Author Interview: Edna Cabcabin Moran

Today, I am SO PROUD to present my interview with Filipino American author illustrator Edna Cabcabin Moran. *bursts with pride*

Welcome, Edna!!

Author/Illustrator, Edna Cabcabin Moran. Photo by Mark Moran.

Can you tell us a bit about your Asian American heritage?

My parents are from Eastern Samar, Philippines, an historic island in the Visayan island chain. My father was a U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer who brought my mom and older siblings to this country. I am the first American-born child in the family. Growing up, I always felt like I straddled two cultures. I'm very American in the way I dress, speak and carry myself. I don't know Tagalog and I lost touch with my parent's dialect, Waray Waray. However, I have strong cultural roots and have retained much of my Filipino-ness which includes a deep, abiding respect for the elders and their stories.

Perhaps the family meal is a good indicator of how one is raised? My parents always served rice with meals which usually comprised of seafood and stir-fried meats with vegetables. We even had rice for breakfast-champorado or chocolate rice porridge-one of my favorite childhood dishes. I rarely ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or fast food for meals until I was in my teens.

What kind of young reader were you?

I had zero interest in books and reading until the middle of first grade, when my teacher, Miss Henderson, worked her magic. She encouraged me to paint and draw as much as I wanted. Miraculously, I went from the lowest to the highest reading group in a short time. When I turned eight and got my library card, I went on a reading rampage, devouring stacks of books each week. I loved Greek myths, folk tales, stories about famous people as children and anything my older sister was reading. I was also a fan of chapter books, the Encyclopedia Britannica and comic books.

What were you like as a young artist?

I daydreamed all the time, frequently lost in my own world. However, ours was a creative home. My mother crocheted and sewed. She made us paper dolls with renditions of nipa huts from her beloved homeland. I watched my older siblings draw and started mimicking them. Soon, I developed my own style of drawing. When I first tried painting, I fell madly in love with it, loved color and used it boldly. In upper elementary school, I developed a reputation for drawing people (and my friend, Belinda, was the "go-to" gal for hand-drawn horses). I received tons of encouragement from my teachers and even won a drawing contest and scholarship at age eleven. Drawing and painting became as essential as breathing.

What inspires and motivates you to be an author illustrator for children?

As a writer and artist, I'd never completely left the world of the child. I loved my childhood! It was a time of wonder and discovery and of seeing life through a wide lens of hope and possibility.

I love being around kids. I've taught, entertained, coached and played with kids in work, volunteer and personal settings. Kids are an exceptional audience. Curious, eager and unjaded, they'll follow you deep into the jungles of story. But they aren't easily fooled or impressed. If they like or dislike something or sense that you are "insincere," they won't hesitate to tell you. They keep me "honest" in my work and I relish that challenge.

What was your path to publication as an author illustrator for children?

I've always loved storytelling through writing and pictures. I smile when I think of some of my earliest stories--the mouse who painted abstracts and a fable featuring a giraffe named Geoffrey (pre-ToysRUs). I wrote almost as much as I painted but I was known for my visual work because I kept most of my writing to myself.

Maurice Sendak's iconic book, WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE made a huge impact on me when I was a teenager. I had a visceral reaction while reading that book to my nephew. I knew that picture books had a special place in my heart but it was years later, after I had my first child, that I listened to my Muse and took initiative. I started taking classes on picture book illustration, participating in critique groups and building my portfolio. I was primarily interested in being an illustrator but once my Muse had a feel for creating manuscripts and book dummies, I was hooked. I knew I wanted to write and illustrate my own concepts.

THE SLEEPING GIANT: A Tale From Kauai. Edna's first picture book earned the 2007 Ka Palapala Po'okela Honorable Mention.

"Fish scales fell to the ground and gave way to flesh... Bulging fish eyes changed into human eyes, framed by heavy black brows."

"Pualani's heart raced. Her na'au, gut feeling, pressed her to keep walking until she stood at the giant's feet."

What are your chosen mediums? What is your creative process like?

I favor mixed media for my painterly style—acrylic underpainting with chalk pastel or gouache with colored pencil. For my line-art, I use Tombow brush pens or Faber-Castell PITT pen then digitally apply touches of color.

My creative process begins with my Muse who is usually engaged in a dance of ideas and visual references. She can be coaxed into appearing at brainstorm sessions or she'll drop in unexpectedly, sometimes when I'm driving. It's my job to capture the ideas and impressions on paper.

My artwork develops in stages: I go from thumbnails and rough sketches to highly-rendered drawings. In the final stage, I paint using my mediums of choice. I like to work on two or three paintings at a time to maintain energy and consistency between the pieces. By the end, I hope to have all the individual paintings "sing" as a complete work of art.

Some of Edna's artwork:

Promotional bookmark.

Spot line-art image used in "The Bulletin," the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators magazine.

Cover for Kira Willey's award-winning musical yoga album.

Can you tell us a little bit about your book tours, school visits, or workshops?

I enjoy doing author/illustrator visits and am thrilled to present to students of all ages, at a wide range of venues. My presentation style is conversational, fun and interactive. I like to highlight cultural and visual information, as well as, include personal and professional back-stories. Invariably, I end up complementing classroom curriculum with my assemblies due to the wide scope of material I cover. However, my workshop program is flexible and I'll gladly work with staff to tailor something for their students.

A visit with the students of Kamilo'iki School, Honolulu, HI.

An illustration demo, Children's Book Week, Barnes & Noble, Hawaii Kai.

What are the challenges and rewards of being an Asian American author illustrator for children?

Bridging the Asian Pacific cultural perspective with Western sensibilities within a given story poses a significant challenge. There's the logistic of keeping within the parameters of the work, such as limiting word count for the picture book format, and the art of crafting a seamless explanation for the cultural aspects.

The rewards for bridging the "cultural divide" are severalfold: One's voice develops an authenticity which can propel the story to a higher level. Readers gain insight and appreciation for the culture.

Who are your favorite Asian or Asian American children's and young adult book authors and illustrators? What are your favorite Asian or Asian American children's and young adult books? Why are they your favorites?

I admire a number of Asian American authors and illustrators--Ed Young, Grace Lin, Lisa Yee, Allen Say, William Low to name a few. Each has a strong voice that comes through in his/her work.

I'm pleased to see more Asian American and Pacific Island books entering the market. I have many favorites; however, off the top of my head, I love LON PO PO and SEVEN BLIND MICE by Ed Young and Lisa Yee's MILLICENT MIN, GIRL GENIUS. I also have a favorite adult title that deserves mention: WHEN THE ELEPHANTS DANCE by Tess Uriza Holthe. It is a "storyteller's book" and it spoke to my heart. I'd read it during my travels to the Philippines this spring. Again, these are just a few titles I'd recommend. There are more—so many more...:-)!

Do you celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month? How are you celebrating it this year?

Over the years, I've danced hula with my halau, Na Lei Hulu, at Asian Pacific celebrations and concerts. This month, I've had some school assemblies and a family night event. It was a pleasure sharing my background and passion for hula and Hawaiiana. Hopefully, the audience walked away with a better understanding and appreciation for Pacific Island culture.

Edna dances hula with Na Lei Hulu I Ka Wekiu. Photo by Lin Cariffe.

At Earhart School's family night, Edna teaches a sitting hula.

What are you working on now?

I illustrated a new book that's coming out in the fall. It's titled, CAN YOU CATCH A COQUI FROG?, written by Vera Arita. Also, my poetry appears in a middle grade anthology that will be out next year. I have several works in progress—a few picture books and a novel.


Happy Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, Edna! Thank you so much for visiting Into the Wardrobe and celebrating with us. :D

And now for some link luuurv. Click here to read Jama Kim Rattigan's interview with Edna over at alphabet soup - it includes a recipe for lumpia!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Author Interview: Roseanne Thong

Welcome Roseanne Thong, author of children's picture books with a distinctly Asian flavor! :D

Roseanne, you have worked as a journalist and as an English teacher. What was your path to publication as a children's book writer?

My path to publication as a children's writer was purely accidental! After my daughter, Maya, was born, I was inspired to write stories on basic themes that appeal to toddlers: shapes, colors, and numbers. Unfortunately, I just locked these ideas in a drawer, thinking that no one would be interested, other than my own child. One day, a good friend saw the manuscripts and insisted that I send them out to children's publishers. I learned how to send a query letter by joining SCBWI (Society of Children's Writers and Illustrators) and sent my manuscripts out to SCBWI's list of recommended publishers. A year later, I had sold my first book!

What motivates you to write children's books?

My world around me: what I see as I'm walking down the street, and working with students, what I care about regarding human interaction, and the things that bring a smile to my own daughter's face. I also am motivated to write about Asian culture, in a way that makes it interesting and exciting for all children. I write on universal themes, but often, with a unique Asian flavor.

Do you have a particular writing process or any writing rituals?

Finding quality time to write is the most difficult obstacle that I face, and more important than the process of writing, is the process of finding time to write! You can't write in between phone calls, paying bills and cooking. You need a chunk of quality, quiet time. What I can do on these days, is to list out a prioritized that when I am presented with time...I already know what I'm going to focus on.

On my writing days, I don't answer the phone between 6:30 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. I put a sign on my door that says "Mom at work," and don't let anyone enter. I schedule all appointments for my non-writing days. soon as I have's a mad race to get ideas down. I write as much as I can, with as little editing as possible. Then, later on, I will go back and edit those ideas--keeping the good and throwing out the bad.

Your picture book Round is a Mooncake (illustrated by Grace Lin and published by Chronicle Books in 2000) is a really fun and engaging book of shapes found in Asia (round rice bowls, square name chops, rectangle inking stones, etc.). I love it! What inspired you to write Round is a Mooncake?

It was the eve of the Moon Festival in Hong Kong, where I lived and taught English for 14 years. I was shopping in my local neighborhood, when I noticed the full, round, harvest moon, round lanterns, round mooncakes, round baskets of round fruit. I was suddenly inspired by round shapes. I grabbed my pen and an old electric bill I had in my purse, jotted down a rhyme that poured seamlessly from my thoughts...

Round is a mooncake
Round is the moon
Round are the lanterns outside my room...

The Wishing Tree (illustrated by Connie McLennan and published by Shen's Books in 2004) is based on a real wishing tree in Hong Kong. It's a touching and inspiring story about a boy named Ming and his grandmother who every year make wishes using the tree. What inspired you to write The Wishing Tree? Do you often make wishes on Chinese wishing trees?

When I lived in Hong Kong, my family and I would make a wish every year at the local Wishing Tree.

But this book was inspired by several questions that I'd been thinking about for years, not necessarily related to the wishing tree...."What purpose do wishes play in children's lives, and why do some children wish for things that can't come true?" My own daughter always wished for a dog, but we could never have one...I'm terribly allergic to animals, and we lived in a small apartment without a yard. As I explored questions about wishing, I developed a male character in my mind named Ming, who also wished for something that could not come true. I guess my daughter was the inspiration.

I also love Gai See: What You Can See in Chinatown (illustrated by Yangsook Choi and published by Abrams Books for Young Readers in 2007)! It's an absolutely delightful picture book about the things one can see at a Chinese street market, from songbirds to velvet shoes with pearls and beads, to dragon fruit and sticky jellies. What inspired you to write Gai See? What are your favorite things in Chinese street markets?

As with Round is a Mooncake, Gai See was inspired by a walk through my local Chinese street market or "Gai See" in Cantonese. I noticed the unique sounds, textures, smells, tastes, and visual stimulation, and then presented myself with a question that turned into a book...

What in the world could you possibly see
at an old Gai See beside the sea
on a hot and steamy, melt ice creamy
summery Saturday morning?

What are the challenges and rewards of writing Asian-influenced children's books?

The biggest challenge of writing an Asian-themed book is being culturally accurate, both in text and with illustration. Sometimes, the illustrations are not appropriate: they might show a Japanese item, rather than a Chinese one, or colors or numbers that are culturally offensive or even foreign to Chinese. I also worry that I might not have understood customs or traditions fully. Therefore, I run my text past 3 or 4 'experts'...librarians, teachers, and others, who can make sure the text sound authentic.

What are your favorite Asian or Asian American children's books? What Asian or Asian American children's books are you reading now?

Wow...there are so many good ones. Just a few that come to mind are "Baseball Saved Us" by Ken Mochizuki, "Monsoon" by Uma Krishnaswami, and various books by Allen Say, Paul Say and Minfong Ho. I'm currently re-reading "Farewell to Manzanar" for the 5th or 6th time.

What are some of your favorite experiences from living in Asia for more than 15 years?

Asia is an incredible place. While there is always something new and unexpected around every corner, my favorite experiences are the mundane...the chirp of cicada (like crickets at a soccer match) on a warm summer day, the beckoning taste of dragon fruit, star fruit and mangosteen, the call of street hawkers, and warm, humid air from the South China sea.

(Roseanne with her daughter Maya at Victoria Peak, Hong Kong)

You are American and your husband is Malaysian-born Chinese, so your daughter enjoys a very rich mixed heritage. Does your family celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month? How are you celebrating it this year?

We celebrate everything that comes makes life more exciting! A few times a year, I take my daughter to the bookstore (her idea of the proverbial 'candy shop') and let her pick out two books on a particular theme. We'll celebrate by delving into the newest Asian-American authors and books.

(Roseanne and Maya at dragon boat races in Hong Kong)

What are your upcoming books for children?

My latest is a book entitled "Wish" (Chronicle Books, 2008), it is a book of international wish-making traditions. It recently was named "Best of the Best Book" from Chicago Public Library, and was a "Notable Book" recommended by Smithsonian Magazine.

Another book called "Fly Free" will be published later this year. It is a book about Karma, written in a way that young children can grasp. It takes place in Vietnam, though the concept is universal...that good karma or good deeds generate goodness.

Thank you so much Roseanne for taking the time to answer my questions today. And I thank you for writing books for children that are great introductions to Asian culture!

Roseanne is available for author visits and writing workshops at schools any place in the world. She goes to Asia every year. :D Email her at for more information.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Author Interview: Suzanne Kamata

Playing for Papa (illustrated by Yuka Hamano and published by Topka Books in 2008) is an interesting bilingual (English/Spanish) picture book about a multicultural family in Japan. We are introduced to a Japanese father and an American mother and their twins - one boy, one girl. The little girl cannot walk and needs a wheelchair. Her twin brother tells us the story of how he wants to play baseball for his papa, who is the coach of a high school baseball team that has made it to the semi-finals of a national baseball tournament. His papa's team wins the semi-final, but loses the final game, and we see how both the victory and the defeat affect the family. I love how Playing for Papa shows readers multiculturalism, but isn't about multiculturalism. It is a picture book about family and about what it really means to win or lose.

Today, I am very happy and excited to interview the author of Playing for Papa, Suzanne Kamata. Welcome to Into the Wardrobe's celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, Suzanne!

Can you please tell us a bit about your multicultural family?

I'm American and my husband is Japanese. We live in rural Japan with our twins. Our daughter is deaf and has cerebral palsy. I've found that there is another culture associated with the disabled. My daughter has a different first language than the rest of do, for example - Japanese Sign Language.

Does your family ever celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month? How are you celebrating it this year?

We've never celebrated it up till now, but I think from now on we'll celebrate by reading books about kids in various Asian-Pacific countries. (And maybe do a little related cooking.)

What motivates you to write children's books?

I've always had an interest in writing for children, but I didn't start until I had children of my own. I couldn't find as many books about bicultural and/or disabled children in Japan as I would have liked, so I started writing stories inspired by my children, that they would be able to relate to. I'd also like kids in other countries to know more about the lives of children in Japan and children with disabilities. I can present these things in a fun way through stories for children.

What was your path to publication as a children's book writer?

I started out by submitting children's stories to magazines, such as Ladybug and Skipping Stones. Of all the stories I'd written for children, however, Playing for Papa is the one I most wanted to have published in book form. I sent it to several children's book publisher's in the United States and got a lot of positive feedback, but no contracts. Then, while surfing the Internet, I came across Topka Books in Spain, which published bilingual picture books about multicultural families and kids with disabilities where the disability wasn't central to the story. It seemed like a perfect fit for Playing for Papa, in which there is a bicultural family in Japan, with a disabled child. Topka Books published the book late last year.

Do you have a particular writing process or any writing rituals?

Not really. I write when I have time, usually when my kids are at school. I tend to write a quick and messy first draft, which I then revise and polish and share with my SCBWI critique group. Then I revise again.

What inspired you to write Playing for Papa?

My son asked me to write a story about him playing baseball with his dad. Also, my husband was a baseball coach for twelve years and was very busy, but I noticed that even after a crushing defeat, playing with his children could lift his spirits.

What do you want young readers to take away from Playing for Papa?

That there are many kinds of families, that family love is more important than winning or losing, and that even a girl in a wheelchair can be a catcher in a baseball game.

What are the challenges and rewards of writing multicultural children's books?

The challenge is to present characters of a particular culture without resorting to stereotypes, and also to present characters and situations that kids from any culture can relate to. I think the biggest reward comes from touching the lives of the reader or the listener. If they seem interested, or amused or are moved by my stories, I feel like I have done my job.

Who are your favorite Asian or Asian American children's book authors?

Allen Say, Mitali Perkins, Uma Krishnaswami, Naomi Kojima, to name a few.

What are your favorite Asian or Asian American children's books? Why are they your favorites?

I really love "Tea With Milk" by Allen Say, which is about a girl caught between cultures. I like the message conveyed in this book that home isn't really a physical place, but more of a state of mind - that home can be anywhere we are with loved ones. I love the poetry of "Monsoon" by Uma Krishnaswami, and the whimsy of "The Singing Shijimi Clams" by Naomi Kojima.

What are you working on now?

I've got a couple of young adult novels in the works both featuring multicultural heroines in Asia. We'll see how that goes.

Thank you very much for writing Playing for Papa, Suzanne! I think it is an inspiring contribution to diversity in children's literature. And thank you very much for chatting with me today. I look forward to reading your young adult novels featuring multicultural heroines in Asia!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

YA Writer to Watch Out For: Ellen Oh

Today, I have the privilege of interviewing blogger and YA writer Ellen Oh. I first came across Ellen's popular blog Hello Ello while I was doing research for my interview with Ingrid Law. (Ellen's oldest daughter had interviewed Ingrid.) I checked out Hello Ello and really liked what I saw and discovered that Ellen had written Seven Kingdoms, a young adult fantasy set in ancient Korea. My interest was further piqued and I immediately emailed Ellen to let her know that I thought Seven Kingdoms sounded AWESOME. Alas, Seven Kingdoms is not yet a published book. But I think it's only a matter of time before we see Ellen's work on bookstore shelves. And the wait will be well worth it.

Ellen, can you tell us a bit about your Asian American heritage?

I'm an American Gyopo - which is the Korean term for any person of Korean ethnic descent who lived the majority of their lives outside of Korean and doesn't hold Korean citizenship. And while I do not speak Korean well - I am barely conversational and nearly illiterate in Korean - I am not a banana. I do not try to pretend to be what I am not. I am proud of my heritage. I embraced my cultural roots and appreciate where I come from.

Do you celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month? How are you celebrating it this year?

This year I am celebrating it by highlighting Asian authors on my blog and at the Enchanted Inkpot - a MG/YA fantasy {blog}. I started early with Cindy Pon and will be interviewing Grace Lin next, whose new fantasy novel Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is simply spectacular. I also hope to continue to highlight Asian authors and raise their profile with the general public.

What inspired you to write Seven Kingdoms?

Well, it all started with Genghis Khan back in 2000. Time magazine named him man of the millennium and I went out and picked up a biography on him. Surprisingly, I learned more Korean history in a biography about a Mongol than I ever learned in school. It made me really curious about ancient Korea. However, trying to find history books was nearly impossible. The library and bookstores here in the States only went as far as the Korean War. That meant I had to rely on the internet and my Dad to learn about Korean history. My dad was awesome! When he found out I wanted to learn about Korea and write about it, he went to the Korean consulate and borrowed and bought books from them that I couldn't get on my own. I also bought lots of books off the internet from a Korean distributor. When my husband saw how much I spent on books, he told me I'd better be writing the great American novel.

All that research was worth it. I was fascinated by the Three Kingdoms Period and it became the basis for my Young Adult novel, the Seven Kingdoms.

What kind of work are you now doing on Seven Kingdoms?

I did a major rewrite, changing my novel from a male POV to a female POV after I got back editor comments. Since they were comments from editors who wanted to see a rewrite, I took them very seriously. I am now working on another major revision.

Why are you writing for young adults?

Because nearly all my favorite books are ones considered to be for YA. And quite frankly I enjoy reading YA and MG books so much more than adult books.

Why are you writing fantasy?

I grew up reading fairy tales (remember the Lang red, orange, blue, green fairy books?), mythology, folktales and legends. Then I fell in love with the Narnia books and the Lord of the Rings. But I think what sealed my love for fantasy was Ursula LeGuin's Earthsea series.

Do you have a particular writing process or any writing rituals?

The only process I have is that before I start a book, I begin researching the idea extensively. I then outline the whole story and having written 3 books, I can tell you that one odd thing I do is that I like to write the conclusion to my stories first.

What is your definition of a “bad writing day”? How do you deal with bad writing days?

A bad writing day is a day where no writing gets done. Hey it happens. Can't worry about it. You just pack it up and hope that the next day you will make up for the bad one, and it usually does!

Was it difficult getting an agent?

Well when I wrote my first book, it was based on Ancient Korea and based on the idea that one of the ancient Kingdoms of Korea was the forefather of the Yamato nation of Japan. As I workshopped the MS in writing classes, I had published writers and others in the publishing industry tell me that I would never get a novel based on an obscure period of Korean history published as a new author. They so discouraged me that I put that book aside and began writing a novel based on World War II instead. I queried that novel and got quite a bit of interest in reading the MS, but all the agents rejected it, giving me comments that made me realize that I had a structural problem in the novel. I immediately stopped querying because I realized I'd have to do a major overhaul on the novel, but instead of revising, the idea of Seven Kingdoms came vividly in my head and I realized I didn't care what anybody said, I wanted to have my first published novel be about ancient Korea. And that book just flowed out of me. When I was ready to query, I did a lot of intensive research to see what agents would most likely be interested in my novel. I looked at the books they represented and the deals listed for them on Publishers Marketplace. I queried approximately 30 agents and had several requests for partials and fulls. Fortunately for me, Cindy Pon encouraged me to query her agent, Bill Contardi, who had just sold her YA fantasy novel. She thought because of her book, he would be interested in mine. She was absolutely right and I'm really fortunate to find myself represented by him. And the other agents who were reading my MS were incredibly gracious and lovely when I told them about my offer. So I was very lucky to find my agent, but I do want to stress how much research I did to make sure that I was focusing my agent search on the right type of agent for me. It is not an easy thing to do, but Verla Kay's Blueboards are one of the best places for a writer to find out just that kind of information. The community is wonderful and caring and I'd be lost without it.

What kind of teen reader were you? What were your favorite books? Who were your favorite authors?

It is hard to remember that long ago! And honestly, I am jealous of teen readers now. We had great books when I was young, but there seems to be so much more now! My favorite authors then were Harper Lee, Ursula LeGuin and Alexander Dumas. To Kill a Mockingbird and The Count of Monte Cristo are still my favorite books.

What are your favorite Asian or Asian American young adult books?

I gotta tell you that I am in love with Grace Lin's new book that I mentioned earlier. She is an amazing writer and When the Mountain Meets the Moon is a book everybody needs to buy cause they will love it. I love Cindy Pon's book Silver Phoenix. I also enjoyed Nahoko Uehashi's Moribito series. And of course I can't forget Linda Sue Park's Single Shard and When My Name Was Keoko. I also have to mention Sook Nyul Choi's Year of Impossible Goodbyes. And one of my all time favorite books, which is not YA is When the Elephants Dance by Tess Uriza Holth. Love that book!

What young adult books are you reading now?

I am currently reading Erica Kirov's MagicKeepers for my interview with her this month on Enchanted Inkpot. I also have waiting for me Skin Hunger and Watersmeet.

Why do you think there is the misconception that young adult books are not as deep or as complex as books for adults? What is your response to this misconception?

You know, that's a good question. I think it is just this belief by grown ups that younger readers need to read simple stories told simply. They underestimate younger readers and forget that when they themselves were young, they were probably reaching for adult books because there wasn't the variety of YA books that we have now. Everyone says we are in a golden age of children's literature and it is glorious! It is a great time to be a young reader. But lots of what is categorized YA could just as easily be an adult book title. The stories are complex, the writing excellent. I think it is ridiculous to think YA is not as rich as adult titles. It is in part misconception, and it is also bias.

What are your dreams for Seven Kingdoms?

Well my first and foremost dream is to hope to see it published. I've gotten many emails from Gyopos from all around the world who tell me they heard about my book through my blog or my website or word of mouth and their first question is "when can I read it?" I get emails from people begging me to let them read my book now because they've never read an English Korean fantasy book and I'm like, "thanks for being so excited about my book! Let's hope I get it published and then you can read it!" I once got an email from a little boy who told me his Mom had shown him my website and how cool he thought my book was going to be and thanking me for writing. That one really got to me cause I realized he was looking for a book that he could relate to. I knew that Korean Gyopos would be interested in my book, after all, how many other ancient Korean fantasy books are there? But I do hope that if I get published, that non-Koreans will be interested in my book also. And that Korea isn't the forgotten country in between China and Japan.

I really thank Ellen for sharing her writing journey with us. I truly look forward to reading Seven Kingdoms!!!

To end this interview, here are the seven icons for the kingdoms in Seven Kingdoms. Virginia Allyn illustrated these icons, as well as the map of the kingdoms (shown at the beginning of the interview).

Guru is represented by the mounted archer.

Oakcho is represented by a Korean pavilion.

Hansong is represented by a hanbok (the Korean national dress).

Tongey's symbol is a waterfall.

The icon for Jinhan shows the famous Shilla (one of the real kingdoms of ancient Korea) golden crown.

Kaya is represented by the kayagum (a stringed instrument).

And lastly, Kudara is represented by the famous seven-branched sword of Paekche (also a real kingdom in ancient Korea).

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Cool Melons -- Turn to Frogs!: The Life and Poems of Issa

Story and haiku translations by Matthew Gollub
Illustrations by Kazuko G. Stone
Calligraphy by Keiko Smith

Cool melons --
turn to frogs!
If people should come near.

Cool Melons -- Turn to Frogs!: The Life and Poems of Issa (Lee and Low Books, 1998) is so beautiful that I got teary-eyed the first time I looked through it. This picture book tells the story of Kobayashi Yataro, the haiku master otherwise known as Issa. Issa was born in Kashiwabara, a small mountain village in Japan, in 1763. He liked observing birds and insects, and spent a lot of time playing alone in the woods. It seems natural then that he started writing haiku as a young boy. (Traditional haiku describe a single moment in nature.)

Issa's mother died when he was three and his father remarried when he was seven. Issa and his stepmother didn't get along at all, so when Issa was only fourteen, he was sent away from his home. He went to Edo, which is now known as Tokyo, to work and study under a master poet. Issa's poems were soon being published in books and eventually he took over the master poet's school.

When Issa was thirty, he stopped teaching, shaved his head, donned a priestly robe, picked up a pilgrim's staff, and started a journey in the tradition of haiku poets. For seven years, he traveled around Japan by foot and wrote haiku - and he found great joy in this lifestyle.

Asleep on the ocean --
a folding fan
shades me from the moon.

Finally, Issa returned to his village in time to nurse his father during his last days. And even though Issa still could not get along with his stepfamily, he promised his father that he would settle in the village and start a family of his own there. And there Issa continued to delight in nature, write haiku, and teach students until the day he died in 1827.

The new year's first dream --
I see my village
and wake to a chilly tear.

If you want to learn A LOT more about Issa and his life or about haiku in general, you MUST read Cool Melons -- Turn to Frogs!. Interspersed with Issa's life story are thirty-three of his lovely haiku. Each haiku is also written in Japanese in the outer page margins. Keiko Smith wrote the calligraphy using traditional materials: charcoal, paper, water, and brush. There's also a very helpful and very interesting author's note at the end with lots more information about Issa's work and about haiku in general.

This book has inspired me to have more contact with nature, to reflect more, and to try to write my own haiku. :)

Check out the blog of children's book writer Susan Taylor Brown for more posts on poetry today.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Author Interview: Justina Chen Headley

Stopping by today to proudly talk about her Asian American heritage is the beautiful Justina Chen Headley - young adult book author, co-founder of readergirlz (an online book community for teen girls), and winner of the 2007 Asian Pacific American Award for Literature.

Welcome, Justina!

Can you tell us a bit about your Asian American heritage?

I am Taiwanese-American. My parents were both born in Taiwan, and I was born here in America.

What inspires and motivates you to write for young adults?

The teen years fascinate me—they’re at once formative and frustrating. Those are the years that form a person into an adult, yet so many of the rites and rights of adulthood are withheld.

Do you have a particular writing process or any writing rituals?

I try to journal for a few minutes at the start of my writing day. There’s something about pen connecting with paper that I find to be hugely liberating. And then I’ll write for 3-4 hours a day, oftentimes with a candle burning.

What is your definition of a “bad writing day”? How do you deal with bad writing days?

A bad writing day is when life overtakes my writing time, encroaches on the time I’ve set aside to create. I try to keep my writing time sacred, which means not scheduling anything during those hours. I’m not entirely successful at that!

What are the challenges and rewards of being an Asian American young adult book writer?

To be honest, I see myself as a young adult author who happens to be Asian-American rather than letting my race define who I am. For now, I’m intent on populating my books with characters of different ethnicities because I feel like there’s a dearth in representation in our fiction today. That gives me the room to create characters I want to write about, including Terra Rose Cooper in NORTH OF BEAUTIFUL who happens to be white with a port wine stain on her face—and her love interest, Jacob, a teen boy who was adopted from China. I love being able to introduce my culture to people--whether that's through incorporating passages of food, of country, of history.

Justina's books for young adults:

Do you celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month? How are you celebrating it this year?

I eat Pan-Asian as much as I can throughout the month! Three years ago, I celebrated the month by embarking on a Hi-YAH! book tour with Janet Wong and Grace Lin.

What kind of teen reader were you? What were your favorite books? Who were your favorite authors?

I was a voracious reader, but unfortunately, YA wasn’t as well-developed as a category. My favorite books were by Paula Danziger and Judy Blume, but my all-time favorite book is THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH, a book for all ages.

What are your favorite Asian or Asian American young adult books?

I’m so happy that more and more Asian American authors are writing young adult. Everyone should check out Paula Yoo, David Yoo, An Na, Mitali Perkins.

What young adult books are you reading now?

I can’t wait to get my hands on Cindy Pon’s new YA novel!

Why do you think there is the misconception that young adult books are not as deep or as complex as books for adults? What is your response to this misconception?

I wonder if people mistake length for depth? In any case, I am first to say that I think some of the best literature being written right now is for young adults. That’s one of the reasons why I co-founded readergirlz—the world’s largest online book community for teens. We are all about celebrating YA novels with strong, gutsy girl protagonists. Check it out at and

What are you working on now?

I’m juggling two different projects, one a contemporary YA novel and my first YA fantasy series—a retelling of a Chinese fairy tale. I took a phenomenal research trip to Dunhuang in China, part of the Silk Road. Fabulous!

Your books are available in bookstores in Asia. Do you have a message for your readers in Asia?

Be proud of our heritage! And read, read, read!

Justina, thank you for dropping by and chatting with me today. :D