Latina writer of books for kids of all ages.

TRW14_1000x200It’s a great week to love books in Richmond, Virginia – especially middle grade and YA fiction. That’s because it’s not only the Library of Virginia’s Literary Festival, but it’s also the American Library Association’s TeenRead Week. Wao! So much going on, so what can I say except, Tengo los patines puestos! (I’ve got my roller-skates on!) Here are a few highlights of where I’ll be during the week:

ByznKPqIcAMRPzSMeadowdale Library/Tomahawk Creek MS:  I’ll head down to Chesterfield County for a library book talk that is off-site on Wednesday, Oct 15, 7 PM.  We’ll talk The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind and Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass. Here’s the info and where you register.  Especially nice to see a partnership between the school and public libraries in a community.

 

10460756_624828830946388_5252190620263280422_nTeen 14: Locals already know that the main branch of the Richmond Public Library on Franklin Street is always figuring out ways to make reading come alive, especially for kids. So, they’re going to play host once again for a teen author event. Join Virginia authors who have works for teens published in 2014. Teen '14 poster-FIt’s a ready-made night for librarians, teachers, and readers who want to meet and make friends with the truly kick-ass authors we have in the Commonwealth. PLUS, food, music, giveaways.  If last year’s event was any sign, it’s going to be a really fun night. Details on their Facebook page or click on the jpg poster here.

Hermitage High School Anti-bullying Book Event with Erin Jade Lange. You know her novel?  It’s called Butter, about a kid who decides to eat himself to death on Internet. Here’s the trailer. We’ve cooked up (ugh, the pun!) a good conversation about our books and bullying.  Note: it’s a closed event, but it will be available by podcast to other high schools.

 

ConferenceLogo2014smallerJames River Writers Conference:  My favorite conference each year because it brings us all together – writers across every genre and age group – talking, teaching, and learning about the writing life.  The Library of Virginia’s literary luncheon on Saturday features Barbara Kingsolver as the guest speaker. (She’s one of my daughter’s favorite authors, so Sandra gets to come along!) But really, the JRW Conference will, as usual, feature an impressive A-list of award-winners and bestselling stars. Check out the full list and register.

RVAWriters-300x83I’m also giving a standing ovation to JRW for a adding a new way to share the fun of book geekdom with the community.  RVA Hearts Writers will put their conference authors all over the city to offer free workshops and panels on everything from diversity in kid lit, to the Muppets, historical fiction, and the ins and outs of self-publishing.  Check out all you can learn.  The fact is that artists of all types have always made communities more interesting and vibrant. Nice to see the literary arts so well-repp’d in that effort.

Happy reading!

Cariños de,

Meg

That silly school board in Colorado got me feeling especially proud of young people – and also appreciative about my great day this Friday. While their school board continued to pit patriotism against informed thought in its AP History classes, I was surrounded by people who dedicate their lives to doing the opposite.

IMG_2348I got to teach a workshop with the fabulous Duncan Tonatiuh, where we both discussed our writing/creation process and how we bring difficult topics to young people. Here’s a video that fourth graders did in honor of his award-winning picture book, Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale.

 

Just after the workshop, I got to peruse the children’s and YA collection at Busboys and Poets in DC, hands-down the most diverse offerings I have come across in our area. If you’re serious about including all points of view, this is the place to be. I was especially fond of the free downloadable lessons and books lists available through Teaching for Change.

IMG_2352Met the wise women who wrote Parrots Over Puerto Rico (Lee and Low), this year’s winner of the Las Américas Award.  They had the nerve to write a nonfiction book without a single photograph and without even putting the title on the book cover. That, plus a look at the ga-billion scissors and scraps of paper that it took to make all those collage parrots makes me bow low in respect. ¡Felicidades, Susan and Cindy!

IMG_2341Toured the Children’s Literature Center at the Library of Congress for the first time. (This is different from the Young Readers Center that I have talked about here before.)  At the CLC, you can meet with a librarian and study children’s books from every era. My friend Edwin Fontanez called it a candy store for adults who adore kids books – and he’s right. Free and open to the public, by the way.

Américas Award for Children's and Young Adult LiteratureMet many of the amazing librarians and educators who are part of CLASP, a consortium of colleges and other educational groups that offer Latin American studies – and which collectively support the Las Américas Award each year. (Note to my editorial friends:  Nominations for next year’s award ARE OPEN NOW.  Don’t forget to submit your titles!)

And now, it’s Saturday, so you know what? I’m going to walk the dog and rest! More soon.

 

Cariños de,

Meg

1_busboys_logo300I’m checking out another great indi bookstore. It’s Busboys and Poets  in Washington, DC, and I’m going to their 14th and V location for the first time this Friday.

That’s because it’s time for the awards ceremony for the Las Américas prize. This year, top prize went to the lovely picture book Parrots Over Puerto Rico by Susan Roth and Cindy Trumbore, an especially delightful pick from Lee and Low, a smaller publisher that has long been advocating and promoting diverse children’s literature.

main_parrotsfc-w-sealIt’s the story of the near extinction of wild parrots in Puerto  Rico and how that sad situation was turned around. I hope you’ll stop in to the Young Readers Center at the Library of Congress to see an exhibit of the book and its art, which runs through the end of October.

As part of the festivities, Las Américas also sponsors an annual educator workshop – hosted by Busboys and Poets – where teachers and librarians can get hands-on ideas and materials for bringing high quality Latino literature into their classroom or library. I’m so happy to be able to present alongside Duncan Tonatiuh this year. (9:30 – noon). Duncan won honorable mention, as well as a Pura Belpré Honor medal, for his exquisite book Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale. My own novel, Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, was selected as a commended title this year (along with all of these).

If you’re a teacher or librarian, it’s not too late to register. The reasonable $25 registration fee gets you breakfast, a free book, and ideas from Duncan and me on how to use our books in the classroom to help students explore culture and identity. (Registration info here: I’ll even have swag, people.

I know it’s a busy time at the start of a school year. And I know it’s easy to think that you don’t really need a workshop like this if you’ve got mostly non-Latino students. But please consider this:  Empathy is part of the 21st century skill set, and books give kids a chance to build that. There’s nothing like getting inside someone else’s skin for a while to help you consider new points of view.

Anyway, I’ll be trekking up on my favorite Amtrak. (I love you DC, but you can keep your traffic!) Hope you can be there. And don’t forget, you can join us for the author reception, 3 PM – 5 PM inside the Pickford Theater/Madison Building of the Library of Congress. Please email here to say you’re coming: dwolteri@tulane.edu

See you then!

Cariños de,

Meg

Directions to Busboys and Poets: U Street Metrorail stop Yellow/Green line

PDF on the teacher workshops: aateacherworkshop

iguacaparrotflightcagetouched670

imagesMy heroes at Book Riot have a new podcast series called Reading Lives, where authors talk about pretty much anything except their own books. I’m on there today, episode #2, where Jeff O’Neal and I talk about my book collection fetish, as well as all the titles and authors (some surprising) that have shaped everything from my sense of culture to how I parented.

These days I do a lot of interviews, but I can’t remember a time when doing one was this much fun. Maybe it’s because Jeff (aka @readingape on Twitter) is so charming, but maybe too because the hook is so simple. Two people talking about the books we love, old and new. What can I say?  It’s a literary geek’s dream.

If you’ve got some time, check it out. You can subscribe on i-tunes, too.

 

It’s a double whammy! Banned Books week and Hispanic Heritage month, so I’ve been on the road with no sign of rest in the near future.

Fellow REFORMISTA Loida Garcia Febo just shared this link to Latino books that have been challenged and banned, including the book that turned me to writing in the first place: The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros.  Que cosa mas grande...

imagesGracias, Loida. Lists like this inspire me to write more books that might cause alarm and discomfort – and hey, even thought. And they make me feel especially fired up about my first teaching gig at Las Comadres Writers Conference in Brooklyn this weekend. Las Comadres is more than a conference. It’s a movement based on the core principle of mentorship and culture. On Saturday, established Latina authors and publishing pros will come together at Medgar Evers College to help yet-to-be published authors learn the ropes. What’s in it for me?  Mostly getting more Latino voices at the literary table, especially those writing for kids since this year, for the first time,  our public schools will be a majority minority. Besides, I’ll be helping to create more amazing books that will end up on banned book lists.

So, hermanas, if you have a story, if you’ve been too shy to admit that you want to be a writer, if you just don’t know where to begin, register for Las Comadres.

Finally, here are a few pictures from my recent travels to the DC area.  I’m exhausted, but so grateful to Candlewick Press for helping to make some of these visits possible. And as always, I am so grateful for the lovely people I meet everywhere along the way. (I’m waving at you, Osbourn Park High School…even if you DID schedule a fire drill.)

Meg’s next appearances:  

Las Comadres Writers Conference, Medger Evers College, Brooklyn, New York, September 27, 2014

The Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, Richmond, VA, September 30, 2014 (by invitation only)

Las Américas Awards Teaching Workshops, Exploring Immigration and Identity in the K-12 Classroom, with Duncan Tonatiuth at Busboys and Poets, Washington, DC. October 3, 2014

#WeNeedDiverseBoosk founder Ellen Oh surrounded by adoring fans from Iguana Books at North Atlantic Booksellers Association

#WeNeedDiverseBoosk founder Ellen Oh surrounded by adoring fans from Iguana Books

The beautiful Library of Congress. Stay tuned for details about an exciting YA event on April 30, 2015

The beautiful Library of Congress. Stay tuned for details about an exciting YA event on April 30, 2015

Thank you letter from my appearance at the Library of Congress with bilingual students last year.

Thank you letter from my appearance at the Library of Congress with bilingual students last year.

Or maybe I was having a bad hair day?

Or maybe I was having a bad hair day?

Some of the great students I met at Osbourn Park HS

Some of the beautiful students I met at Osbourn Park HS

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_2273See this pretty little pot? It has been sitting in a dark corner of my yard and growing without any help from me whatsoever.

This past spring, when I was planting herbs and Impatiens, I had a few puny plants left in the flats. They looked wilted and leggy. They had no blooms. Worthless, I thought, but I hated wasting them. Javier had once carved out a nice Asian inspired nook in our yard, but grad school, mosquitoes, and the intricacies of Bonsai did him in at last. So, I grabbed one of his abandoned planters and stuck the coleus and Impatiens inside.  Turns out shade and a quiet spot were just what they needed.

It’s too hot to garden in the late summer, but it’s the perfect time to return to edits on my next YA novel. I’m at the stage where a full manuscript exists. Not the finished manuscript –just the starting one where Kate and I start digging deep. The job now is to flesh out what’s working and to axe without mercy what’s not.

It’s a funny thing how the mind works when it’s trying to tell the truth via fiction. It’s never simple to let characters reveal what’s really bothering them. What always amazes me is how small things, tiny seedlings bloom in a manuscript, sometimes without my notice or help. Obvious parts of a character that eluded me earlier suddenly come into focus. And old scenes that I deleted in earlier drafts find a new life and purpose in another section of the book. These are precious moments to me when I realize that a writer can have faith even in failed efforts. With time and a little space, the most unexpected things might bloom.

I’m off to the Amtrak station so I can get to DC. This means two hours of quiet and solitude to work on things! Who knows what will peek through the ground? Hope to see you at the Festival!

Cariños de,
Meg

 

Meg’s next appearances:  

National Book Festival, Washington DC, Saturday, August 30, 2014

Bookmarks Festival, Winston-Salem, NC, Sept 5 -6, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kwame Alexander’s latest middle grade novel, The Crossover, stole my heart this summer. It’s a novel-in-verse about two brothers – both basketball phenoms – and what threatens to pull them apart. At its heart, this powerful book is about family, young men, and the choices we make as we grow up – all all told in an irresistible, thumping  style. Kwame will be speaking at the James River Writers Conference,  which is one of my favorite conferences each year. Here Kwame joins me for a quick taste of what he’ll bring to conference-goers. We talk dialogue, why poetry makes sense for boys, and the one thing he’s learned about the writing life.

 

Photo by Joanna Crowell (2)1. The dialogue in He Said, She Said is absolutely amazing in evoking character. How do you go about crafting dialogue? What advice would you give writers about the line between authentic sound and going too far?

Yeah, I took some chances with the dialogue in HSSS. It took a minute to commit to the language and style of the characters, but once I did, it was ON! I work with young people, through my Book-in-a-Day program. So regularly, I am interacting with them over lunch, teaching poetry, making jokes, and eavesdropping on their conversations. I am very perceptive (and nosy), so I stole a lot of what I heard, felt, participated in. Also, I try to remember how my friends and I kicked it back in the day.

I think that when you’re writing for young people, the trick is to not TRY to write like young people, but rather, put yourself in the classroom, in the lunchroom, in that experience, and write like YOU. There’s a kid in you, just remember what made you smile, laugh, cry, ponder, wonder, wander. Be real and authentic to yourself, and the sound will come across authentic. Of course, you still gotta make it interesting, ‘cause nobody cares that you’re being authentic if you’re boring.

True story: While I was writing, I would go to urban dictionary to come up with cool, clever words to insert. When I’d go back and read it, it just sounded unreal, uncool, suspect. Eventually, I wrote what sounded good and right to me, and I went with that.

CrossoverCover2. The Crossover, your 17th book, is a novel in verse, with themes that would be strongly appealing to boys. Was writing in verse a risk in your opinion? What are the pluses of writing in verse for you? What are the challenges?

In fact, it wasn’t a risk at all. Far too often, as writers, as teachers, we fear poetry. It probably has a lot to do with the agony with which we were taught it growing up. In my opinion, it’s the easiest thing for young people, especially boys, to grasp: It’s short, it’s rhythmic, and there’s a lot of white space. The fact that it packs a lot of emotion and feeling is just the coolest byproduct. As it relates to The Crossover, I felt that poetry would mirror the energy, the movement, the pulse of a basketball game the best. Want to get reluctant engaged with reading and writing, read them Nikki Giovanni, teach them haiku, plan an open mic, let them be firsthand witnesses to the power of accessible, relatable poetry. Recently, a kid I met at a book event told me, “I opened up The Crossover, and was like, ughh, these are poems. But then, I started reading them, and I couldn’t put it down. It was like good poetry, and it told a story. The best thing ever.”

 

3. So often in middle grade and young adult fiction, we find parents who’ve dropped the ball (sorry for the pun). One of the things that struck me about The Crossover is that it celebrates family, including involved and loving parents. Can you tell us about that decision and why it made the most sense for you?

Hey, the first inclination was to somehow get the parents out of the story. That would have been easy, but I wanted to try something different. Once I started marinating on my childhood, my middle school years, I remembered the woes and wonders of my parentals. Of course, once I decided to keep them around, I couldn’t just have a loaded bullet in the chamber. I had to fire it. For me, the story exploded when I did this. I had so many new and exciting literary choices to make. And, that was a fun part of the writing process. I guess I tried my best to mirror the life of a middle school boy as best I could, and you can’t do that without an authentic familial environment. Oh, and also, it gave me a chance to sort of depict my family life, in particular the life of a humorous and handsome dad (smile).

4. The life lessons through basketball never feel heavy-handed. I wondered which of those lessons is the most meaningful to you?

I remember taking an advanced poetry class with Nikki Giovanni, and being told that my poetry was too didactic. That kind of stuck with me, and I’ve been very aware of those tendencies in my writing, because I am a big fan of offering meaning and messages in my writing. I mean the impetus for writing He Said She Said was really to share one BIG message (or maybe two), and it was quite challenging to make it a PART OF the story, but not THE STORY.

The beauty of poetry is that because of its conciseness, because of metaphor and simile, because of line breaks, because of rhythm and rhyme, you are generally more reflective and inspirational, and less didactic. I had so much fun writing the Basketball Rules, and my favorite is #3, the one about not allowing others expectations of you to limit your aspirations. I was taught this as a child, and I believe it now. Especially in my writing career. If I let the number of NOs, the plethora of “Your book is just not that good” emails, define me, I’d be in a not so pleasant place. I’m a Say Yes person, and that’s how I move through the world.

5. Finish this phrase for me. One thing that I’ve learned in my writing life is…

…there are going to be some NOs, perhaps many NOs (I got 29 for The Crossover alone) out there, and you’re going to be disappointed, but if you believe you’ve written a good book (and your spouse confirms this when she sees you pouting), then you’ve got to keep it moving. Know that it’s important to get all the NOs out of the way, so that the YES can get through. All it takes is one (and after 29 rejections and five years, mine came)!

Photo byJoanna Crowell7. What are you working on next?

Now I have to put my pen and paper where my mouth is. Over the next four years, I have eight books coming out. Whoa! Right now, I am working on a new novel-in-verse and a second YA novel. It’s a little overwhelming. So much so, that I called my mentor, and said, “Is there such a thing as overkill, or overexposure.” She replied, “Not for a writer, Kwame. Not for a writer.”

Oh, and recently, in the middle of all these projects, my friend Lois Bridges at Scholastic, asked me to contribute to her anthology on the Joys of Reading. My answer, of course, was YES!

 

ConferenceLogo2014smallerKwame Alexander will be appearing at the James River Writers Conference on Saturday, October 18, 2014. Catch his sessions on poetry and prose romance across the genres.

 

 

 

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