Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Good move, Little Brown. Thank you.

From School Library Journal's Extra Helping:

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers is changing the covers on Trenton Lee Stewart’s "Mysterious Benedict Society" series, following complaints that the character Sticky Washington, described as having light brown skin, appears on all three covers as white.

ETA: Oh and, Little Brown? Please don't do it again.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Book Review and Author Interview: The Frog Scientist by Pamela S. Turner

The Frog Scientist by Pamela S. Turner is a Scientists in the Field book from Houghton Mifflin Books for Children (2009). The amazing Dr. Tyrone Hayes is an African American scientist studying the effects of the pesticide atrazine on male leopard frogs. Dr. Hayes' studies show that atrazine-contaminated water feminizes male leopard frogs (the frogs develop eggs in their testes instead of sperm).

What is the significance of learning that pesticide-contaminated water harms frogs and the frog population? This is the same water that people drink and use to water their crops! According to Dr. Hayes, "Environmental health and human health are one and the same."

The Frog Scientist is not just about Dr. Hayes and his specific work with frogs. The Frog Scientist is also about frogs in general and science experiments in general. In the hands of a lesser writer, all of this information would soon bore many young readers. But Pamela S. Turner makes all the information very accessible and even fascinating to kids. They won't be able to tear themselves away from the book! Plus, it is not just the text that is fascinating. The Frog Scientist is filled with cool photographs of different kinds of frogs (taken by Andy Comins). This book is a treasure for teachers, librarians, and curious kids!

And now I am pleased to present an interview with author Pamela S. Turner!

Hi, Pamela! When did you first find out about Dr. Tyrone Hayes and his study on the effects of pesticides on frogs? What compelled you to write a book about him and his study?

I first learned about Tyrone from an article in the San Francisco Chronicle which described how he'd learned that pesticides could feminize male frogs. I'd finished a Scientists in the Field book about gorillas, and I thought it would be great to do frogs--a 'backyard' creature kids can relate to. Writing about the intersection of science and public policy appealed to me, as well as the opportunity to write about a scientific experiment from start to finish. Tyrone also has a great personal story that I thought might resonate with kids, particularly kids of color.

I took the clipping and sent it to my editor at Houghton. She didn't seem interested, much to my disappointment, and it might've ended there. But after that editor left and Erica Zappy took over, Erica pulled my clippings about Tyrone out of an old file and called to up to say: "This is great! How soon can you have a proposal on my desk?" I said, "Whoa, he doesn't even know I exist. Let me see if he's interested." And also I was thinking, "I want to make sure I actually like this guy and can feel I can work with him."

I called Tyrone and we set up a meeting in his lab. I was wearing long, dangly, sparkling blue earrings when I pulled open his door. The first thing he said to me was, "Hey! I have those same earrings!" So obviously the book was meant to be.

Hahaha! That's a great story, Pamela!

Can you guide us through your research and writing process for The Frog Scientist? How long did it take you to research and write the book? Did you get to handle any of the frogs and help out during Dr. Hayes' experiments?

In terms of research and writing, I decided right away that I wanted to take one experiment of Tyrone's and report on it from beginning to end. I went out into the field with Tyrone in August 2005 (to Wyoming) and then visited the lab several times that fall; also I kept visiting to see how the analysis of the results was progressing. The actual writing I did over perhaps 3 or 4 months. I had the entire book written and my photographer, Andy Comins, took all the photos...and then the book marinated for over a year until Tyrone had time to analyze the results of the experiment. I didn't handle any of the frogs at Berkeley because the experimental protocol has to be followed very strictly. However, I did end up buying a White's tree frog as a pet because of The Frog Scientist and I've had Dumpy for over 3 years.

What is the best thing about writing nonfiction for young readers? Is there a downside to writing nonfiction for young readers?

The best thing about writing nonfiction for young readers is getting to meet so many cool scientists and getting to go out into the field with them. The worst thing about writing nonfiction is that some people look down on it as not being 'literary' and think it's inferior to fiction.

What is your response to people who think that nonfiction is inferior to fiction? I've actually never heard this before, but I have heard of nonfiction writers thinking that fiction is inferior! Do you think that people sometimes think that nonfiction for kids is inferior because it is for kids?

I do think many people consider nonfiction to be inferior to fiction. One reason is because there's a larger market for children's nonfiction than for fiction because of demand from schools and libraries. Publishing companies try to fill this demand by hiring writers to churn out nonfiction series books. With any luck the publishing house hires an outside expert to review text and photos, but I don't think this always happens, and both the writers and the editors don't necessarily have any deep and abiding interest in the nonfiction topics being developed. I know many of these people work hard but the quality's often not there. Schlocky fiction certainly exists, but there are more schlocky nonfiction because overall there are more nonfiction books to be schlocky. So nonfiction has developed something of an inferior image. But even when nonfiction is extremely well written, it has a second hurdle to overcome. Most of the gatekeepers of children's literature (the editors, agents, librarians, etc.) got into the field because they loved fiction. I don't think many people say, "I love the mathematical elegance of physics...I think I'll become a librarian!"

In the larger universe, including the larger literary world, writing for kids is considered inferior. "It's shorter, right? So it must be easier." Ha. A sonnet is short, but that doesn't mean it's easy to write a good one! So as a children's nonfiction writer I get the double whammy.

It's too bad you get a double whammy as a children's nonfiction writer. :o( Your work is WONDERFUL and EXCELLENT.

One of your next books, Project Seahorse, is about seahorses and coral reef conservation in Bohol, Philippines. Can you tell us about your time in the Philippines for Project Seahorse?

I visited Northern Bohol and Jandayan Island in June 2006 to write Project Seahorse. We went out snorkeling to look for seahorses at midnight (they come out in the dark) and there was a thunderstorm on the was so wild and pretty! Later I also went diving with the seahorse scientists and watched a traditional fisher going out to feed his family.

Is there anything about Filipinos, the Philippines, or your time here that surprised you?

I lived in the Philippines from November 1986 through June 1988 and absolutely loved my time there. I was honestly surprised by the condition of the reefs off Bohol. I used to dive in beautiful Anilao (south of Manila), and although I knew the reefs where Project Seahorse worked were degraded, I wasn't really prepared for all the rubble and dead coral left from blast-fishing. I found it very depressing. Hopefully Project Seahorse's efforts to help local communities develop Marine Protected Areas will bring these reefs back.

Thank you so much for answering my questions, Pamela. I wish you the very best for The Frog Scientist and Project Seahorse!

For more Nonfiction Monday blog posts, visit Playing by the book.

[My copy of The Frog Scientist was provided by Pamela S. Turner.]

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Persons of Color Reading Challenge

I'm joining the POC Reading Challenge. This year, I will try my very best to read at least 16-25 books by authors of color and/or with characters of color.

Wow, this is my first time to participate in a reading challenge. Join me? :o)

Friday, January 22, 2010

They're Changing the Cover

I found out about this through Chasing Ray:

Bloomsbury is ceasing to supply copies of the US edition of Magic Under Glass. The jacket design has caused offense and we apologize for our mistake. Copies of the book with a new jacket design will be available shortly.

Thank you, Bloomsbury. Now please don't whitewash a book cover ever again. Other publishers, I'm looking at you too.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Et tu, Little Brown?!

Check this post from Bookshelves of Doom and this post from 100 Scope Notes. There's racebending on the covers of The Mysterious Benedict Society books by Trenton Lee Stewart from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. UGH.

I'm emotionally exhausted. As Susan of Black-Eyed Susan's and Color Online says, whitewashing book covers:

contributes to the poor self-image among children of color
fails to accurately represent race and diversity
says people of color do not matter
denies readers positive and diverse representation
is socially and morally wrong

What's keeping me from getting depressed is the realization that all this discussion and debate about race and representation in books is making us really evaluate our book buying, reading, and reviewing habits. This is a good thing. Yes, I believe positive change will come out of these cover controversies!

Dragons Can Be Whitewashed Too

The Dragon and the Stars (DAW, May 2010) is a science fiction and fantasy anthology featuring Chinese writers from all over the world. The cover is of a Western dragon, not a Chinese dragon. Click here and here to read blog posts and comments about the cover. Thanks to Bibliophile Stalker for this news!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Another Cover Fail From Bloomsbury USA

I'm reading The Prince of Fenway Park by Julianna Baggott as a Cybils judge. It has an illustration on the cover of a cute black boy. Last Wednesday, I showed the book to my friend and fellow editor Blessie. She exclaimed, "This boy isn't white! This book won't sell because the boy on the cover isn't white!" Then Blessie rolled her eyes and we both burst out laughing at the ABSURDITY of that logic. We were remembering the cover fail of Bloomsbury USA back in July 2009. Bloomsbury had used a cover with a white teenage girl for Liar by Justine Larbalestier, a YA novel with a black teenage girl as the main character. The cover was later changed.

Why am I bringing this all up? Because Bloomsbury USA has made the same mistake with the YA novel Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore. Magic Under Glass has a dark-skinned female protagonist. Here is the cover of the book:

Why, Bloomsbury? Why? Whitewashing covers is RACIST. Thinking that books with people of color on the cover won't sell is RACIST. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Shame on you, Bloomsbury. I won't be buying any of your books until you stop whitewashing your book covers.

Dear readers, click here and here to read Ari of Reading In Color's thoughts on the issue. Ari has also posted links to other blog posts.

The 2010 ALA Youth Media Awards

Congratulations to the winners of the 2010 American Library Association's Youth Media Awards! :o)

John Newbery Medal for most outstanding contribution to children’s literature:
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Randolph Caldecott Medal for most distinguished American picture book for children:
The Lion & the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney

Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in literature written for young adults:
Going Bovine by Libba Bray

Coretta Scott King Author Book Award recognizing an African American author of an outstanding book for children or young adults:
Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson (illustrated by R. Gregory Christie)

Coretta Scott King Illustrator Book Award recognizing an African American illustrator of an outstanding book for children or young adults:
My People illustrated by Charles R. Smith Jr. (written by Langston Hughes)

Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Author Award:
The Rock and the River by Kekla Magoon

Pura Belpré Illustrator Award honoring the Latino illustrator of a children’s book that best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience:
Book Fiesta!: Celebrate Children’s Day/Book Day; Celebremos el día de los niños/El día de los libros illustrated by Rafael López (written by Pat Mora)

Pura Belpré Author Award honoring the Latino author of a children’s book that best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience:
Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez

Schneider Family Book Award for books that embody an artistic expression of the disability experience:

Django by Bonnie Christensen (for young children ages 0 to 10)

Anything but Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin (for middle grades / ages 11-13)

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork (for teens / ages 13-18)

William C. Morris Award for a book written by a first-time author for young adults:
Flash Burnout by L.K. Madigan

Theodor Seuss Geisel Award for most distinguished beginning reader book:
Benny and Penny in the Big No-No! by Geoffrey Hayes

Robert F. Sibert Medal for most distinguished informational book for children:
Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream by Tanya Lee Stone

YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award:
Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman

Mildred L. Batchelder Award for an outstanding children’s book translated from a foreign language and subsequently published in the United States:
A Faraway Island by Annika Thor (translated by Linda Schenck and originally published in Swedish in 1996 as En ö i havet)

Click here for a list of all the honor books and for even more awards!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Friday, January 08, 2010

What Are Your Reading Rituals?

I have this ritual before reading a new book I have bought. First, I open up the book to a random page and smell it. (I love the smell of new books!) Then, I remove the book jacket, unfold it, and read everything on it. After studying the jacket, I feel the texture of the book cover, endpapers, and pages. I also check the spine, headband, and footband of the book. Lastly, I slip the book jacket back on and smell the book pages a couple more times.

The book as an object of art is something to marvel at, wouldn't you say? :o)

What are your reading rituals?

Wednesday, January 06, 2010


First, congratulations to Katherine Paterson (author of Bridge to Terabithia) for being named the new National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature in the US! :o)

Head on over to Black-Eyed Susan's for an important discussion on the lack of African American characters in children's and young adult books.

Then visit Chasing Ray, where we are reminded that we shouldn't just promote diversity in children's and young adult book publishing - we should DEMAND diversity.

I'd like to invite everyone to check out Asia in the Heart, World on the Mind (my second blog), where I have an interview with critic Irene Ying-Yu Chen about children's and young adult books in Taiwan, and an interview with author Anna Yaphe Levine about children's and young adult books in Israel.

Lastly, The Baby-Sitters Club series by Ann M. Martin will be back this year! Scholastic Inc. is publishing a prequel and updating and reissuing the original books. Yay! I really loved The Baby-Sitters Club books as a kid.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Cybils 2009 Finalists: Middle Grade Fantasy and Science Fiction

Happy New Year!!! I thinks it's awesome to be celebrating with the announcement of the Cybils 2009 finalists. I have the honor of being a Cybils judge this year, in the middle grade fantasy and science fiction category. Below are the Cybils middle grade fantasy and science fiction finalists. THANK YOU to all the panelists who worked hard to choose the finalists. CONGRATULATIONS to all the authors and illustrators who made it to the shortlist.

Odd and the Frost Giants written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Brett Helquist

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon written and illustrated by Grace Lin

The Serial Garden: The Complete Armitage Family Stories written by Joan Aiken and illustrated by Andi Watson

The Farwalker's Quest written by Joni Sensel

The Prince of Fenway Park written by Julianna Baggott

Dreamdark: Silksinger written by Laini Taylor and illustrated by Jim Di Bartolo

11 Birthdays written by Wendy Mass

Click here to see the finalists in the other Cybils awards categories!