Newbery award winner and New York Times bestselling author

Posts tagged ‘middle grade’

RJ Palacio and Me: Compassion Fans and old BFFs

In Flushing riding a bike that my father gave me

Me, in Flushing

You never forget your childhood best friends. There’s something sacred about that special someone who shared sleepovers and ran races in the school yard  just to see who was fastest. Or, as in my case, acted out Greek myths and enjoyed the mysteries of the Jew’s harp.

imagesThis Saturday, I have the extreme pleasure of reuniting with my grade school best friend,  RJ Palacio, whose lovely book WONDER, is a # 1 New York Times Bestseller and is on just about everyone’s favorite list.We’ll be at La Casa Azul, noon – 2 pm, to talk books, compassion, and friendship.

Raquel, Meg, and Patty

Just couldn’t resist doing the bunny ears. With Raquel and our friend, Patty, in my apartment. Queens, NY

Raquel and I grew up in Flushing, Queens, about a block from each other. We were in the same class and were generally inseparable, until middle school dispersed us and we lost touch for nearly 30 years. But Raquel and her family left an imprint on me that has lasted to this day. Her parents, Neli and Marco, extended affection and time my way like surrogate parents. When I think of my happiest days as a kid, I invariably think of our times together. Watching Neli comb out Raquel’s hair with the help of a dab of Breck cream conditioner; weekends feeding goats at the Catskills Game Farm; my first ride on roller coasters at Six Flags Great Adventure; and visiting Niagra Falls. All of those good times – and countless others – were with Raquel.

Yaqui_frontcoverfullIf anyone had told us all those years ago when we were  playing kickball that we’d be writing books, I’m not sure we’d have believed it. I would have bet that Raquel would have become a visual artist, her specialty being horses way back then.  She might have guessed theatre for me because I was, after all, a pretty good ghost in our sixth grade production of Fiddler on the Roof. But life has taken lots of turns for each of us, and here we are, two resilient girls who insisted on living the creative lives that always appealed to us. We ended up becoming wives, mothers, and authors of WONDER and YAQUI DELGADO WANTS TO KICK YOUR ASS,  books about compassion in one way or another. Is there a reason we both came to this topic?  Is there a shared vision for what we think about books and kids? I suspect the answer is yes to both, but I’m sure we’re going to cover a lot of interesting ground.

Screen Shot 2013-05-11 at 9.03.50 PMJoin Meg and RJ Palacio at La Casa Azul this Saturday, May 18, 2013. Noon. La Casa Azul,  143 E. 103rd Street, New York, New York. (Between Lexington and Park Avenue.) No. 6 train to 103 St. stop

Meg’s next appearance:  SundayMay 19, 2013, 5 pm. Politics & Prose, Washington DC’s coolest indi bookstore, to sit on a panel about the history and future of picture books in honor of the 75th anniversary of the Caldecott Medal. Moderated by Leonard Marcus. With Jon Scieszka, Mac Barnett, Neal Porter, Chris Myers, Laura Vaccaro Seeger.

A symposium in honor of the 75th anniversary of the Caldecott Medal

A symposium in honor of the 75th anniversary of the Caldecott Medal

I Can Almost Smell the Sunscreen: Girls of Summer 2013

It’s almost that time again!  Gigi and I are putting the very last touches on Girls of Summer 2013, our annual curated reading list of summer reads for strong girls.

Girls of Summer 2013Two dates for you:

June 10, 2013:  the new list and our reviews will go live on the blog (www.girlsofsummerlist.wordpress.com)

June 18, 2013:  Our live launch party 7 pm at Library Park, behind the main branch of the Richmond Public Library. 101 East Franklin Street, Richmond, VA. Free and open to the public. Refreshments, book giveaways, and an author panel with Jeri Watts and Kristen Paige Madonia.

Hope you enjoy our new trailer!

For my Holladay ES Peeps

So fun to visit Holladay ES this morning. They’ve been reading MILAGROS in the fourth grade and also TIA ISA in the second grade.  We ran out of time for questions, so as promised, I’m answering here. From grade 2:

How did you get to be so good at writing?
Practice, practice, and more practice. I took lots of writing classes in high school and in college. Even today, I will take a writing class to learn how to tell a story better. Best of all, I have a writing group where I share my work with author friends and get their advice.  
How do you go about writing a book?
I usually start with a good character who has one big problem to solve — but that’s all I know. I write for a few hours every day, and I always start my day by fixing what I wrote the day before. (Sometimes that means I throw it all out and start that work again!) Slowly, slowly — chapter by chapter — the story starts to take shape. One secret is that I usually rewrite the first chapter after I’ve finished writing the whole book. Why? I like the first chapter to give a good hint about everything that is going to happen in the rest of the book.  Since I don’t know what’s going to happen until the book is done, I have to go back and redo it. 
What was your favorite book when you were in 2nd grade?

I can’t remember exactly from second grade, but I can tell you some of the books I loved in elementary school. My all-time favorite book was Charlotte’s Web. Such a sweet story of friendship. I also liked that it was set in the country. I grew up in the city, and the idea of cows and pigs and country fairs seemed so wonderful.

But there were so many books I loved. Here are some of the old book jackets of the stories I loved most. Some of them are still in print today, but they may look very different. Do you love any of these? 


City Mouse Visits Country Mouse, pictures by Richard Scarry

Latino reads for you

Last Saturday I did a Hispanic Heritage presentation at Richmond’s Fountain Bookstore. Here is the list a couple of you have asked for. These are some of my favorite Latino reads, oldies and new releases, from picture books to adults. I could list dozens more, but here is a start. Feel free to add recommendations in the comments section. (P.S. Fountain had most of these titles on their shelves, so give them a call.)

Picture books 

Los Gatos Black on Halloween by Marisa Montes and Yuyi Morales

A poetic spanglish romp on Halloween night. Gorgeous illustrations. Fantastic bilingual vocabulary

http://marisamontes.com and http://yuyimorales.com

La Cazuela That the Farm Maiden Stirred by Samantha Vamos

A farm maiden decides to make arroz con leche – rice pudding. Energetic, bilingual vocabulary, gorgeous illustrations.

www.samanthavamos.com

Martina the Beautiful Cockroach, by Carmen Agra Deedy

Carmen is a storyteller of Cuban origins. Also the author of Growing Up Cuban in Decatur Georgia. This is a classic folktale about how to find the right mate in life. The illustrations are gorgeous and the text gets at kids funny bone.

http://carmenagradeedy.com/

My Name is Gabriela by Monica Brown

Brown presents a beautiful bilingual biography of Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral. In 1945, Mistral became the first Latin American woman to receive the Nobel Prize for literature.

http://www.monicabrown.net

Middle Grade 

The Dreamer by Pam Muñoz Ryan and Peter Sis

This middle grade novel is about the early life of poet Pablo Neruda. It is written in a style that parallels Neruda’s THE BOOK OF QUESTIONS. Here Muñoz weaves Neruda’s love of the natural world, his struggle against his father, and the sounds of poetry in the every day and ordinary.

http://www.pammunozryan.com

Before We Were Free by Julia Alvarez

A look at the savage presidency of Trujillo (Dominican Republic) through the eyes of 12-year-old Anita. Excellent historical fiction.

http://www.juliaalvarez.com

The Firefly Letters by Margarita Engle 

Margarita Engle’s work captures historical fiction through verse. In the Firefly Letters, she retells the life of Fredrika Bremer, a Swedish suffragette who traveled to Cuba in 1851. It’s a slim book that touches on women’s rights and slavery tucked inside often forgotten history.

http://margaritaengle.com/

Young Adult

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

Published in 1984, this is the classic coming-of-age YA story told through interwoven short stories. Fierce and gritty. Often taught in schools.

The Surrender Tree by Margarita Engle

The Cuban War for Independence as told through the eyes of Rosa, who knows how to heal sickness with medicines made from wild plants. (Herbera). In verse. Creates amazing tension and characters in this look at war.

http://margaritaengle.com/

We Were Here by Matt de la Peña

Miguel finds himself in juvie and eventually on the run from the law on his way to Mexico. Gritty characters, funny and tragic. Matt creates full characters and shows their humanity as they try to find forgiveness and redemption.

http://www.mattdelapena.com/

Dark Dude by Oscar Hijuelos

(author of The Mambo Kings…) Racism. The narrator is a Cuban in NYC during the 1970s, where being light-skinned has its problems. Runs away to Wisconsin, only to find a new kind of racism.

The Red Umbrella by Cristina Gonzalez

Cuba 1961 – The Peter Pan flights – during which parents sent their children to live with American families in order to give them a chance to escape Cuba.

http://www.christinagonzalez.com

Adult

Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros

An annual family trip from Chicago to Mexico City descends into generational family storytelling that really tries to find out why Awful Grandmother got to be awful. Funny and powerful.

http://www.sandracisneros.com/

The Sum of Our Days by Isabel Allende

Non-fiction about her life. Picks up where Paula left off. Unflinching look at herself – endearing, appalling, fabulous in every way.

http://www.isabelallende.com/

Women with Large Eyes by Angeles Mastretta (in translation)

Mexican writer. Amazing group of stories that feature strong women.

The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

Stunning, sexy, and funny. Through the most creative use of footnotes I’ve ever seen, Junot gives us a history of the Dominican Republic against a sad-sap story set in Washington Heights today.

http://www.junotdiaz.com/

In Her Absence by Antonio Muñoz Molina

Molina is a highly decorated writer from Spain, but he is only now gaining a reputation here in the states. In this short novel, Mario López is working as a draftsman in the small city of Jaén. The novel chronicles his passionate and painful relationship with Blanca, his artistic and wandering wife of six years.

Before Night Falls by Reynaldo Arenas

Memoir that describes life inside Castro’s Cuba for gay writers.  Set in the 1970s and early 80s. Powerful and tragic – and a testament to the artistic spirit.

Four Days as a Kid’s Book Radical: CHLA

I’m just back from four days at the Children’s Literature Association’s conference. This year’s theme? Change and Insurrection in Children’s Literature.

view from my dorm at Hollins

The conference was held at Hollins University. For me that meant a three-hour ride through some of the most beautiful countryside in Virginia. Scholars of children’s literature from universities across the world came to present papers and debate ideas about books for kids.  I sat in on sessions about apocalyptic heroines and the use of music as a catalyst in YA literature; on racial whitewashing in The Babysitters Club and “kick-ass slayers and teen terminators;” on gendered portrayals; on how Maurice Sendak tackled taboo. Often, it made my brain hurt the way a good workout reduces my muscles to Jello. Here are a few other reasons I’m so glad I got invited.

Valerie Patterson, Brie Shannon, Steve Withrow and me

Steve Withrow’s documentary The Library of the Early Mind. Steve is a children’s book author and now a film producer. His documentary is a collection of the big names in children’s literature – authors, influential critics, librarians — talking about the books that are on everyone’s shelves. It is by turns informative, heartbreaking and hilarious. (Yes, Lemony Snickett is just as over-the-top in real life). I hope this movie gets shown everywhere and that it finds its way to PBS because it’s fantastic. Beyond the absolute “cool factor” of seeing what each author looks and sounds like – it’s an intriguing look at why and how writers compose.  Here’s a peek at his trailer.

A beautiful exhibit on children’s book illustration at the Eleanor Wilson Museum on campus. The lecture by illustrator Thacher Hurd made my whole Saturday. He’s the son of Clement Hurd, illustrator for the beloved classic, Goodnight Moon.  His family knew Margaret Wise Brown – known to them as Brownie – who was, of course, also the author of The Runaway Bunny and countless other works that have endured. How strange to find out she loved fur coats and was fond of a sport called “beagling.” (Think fox hunting on foot, except with a rabbit as the victim in the dog chase.) You have to shudder to think what might have inspired the title for that classic bunny tale.

Sitting on a panel with Uma Krishnaswami (The Grand Plan to Fix Everything), Wendy Shang, (The Great Wall of Lucy Wu), and Maha Addasi (The White Nights of Ramadan).  It felt like a meeting old friends as we talked about multicultural books and why we write them. Thanks to everyone who came out so early to hear us.

Julia Mickenberg and Philip Nel’s awesome paper called “Radical Children’s Literature Now.” They covered books that truly speak to conservation and  to organizing for opposition. They listed books that challenge gender roles, tackle war, and speak to LGBT issues openly and joyfully.  Here are the notes.

Dinner with my friend and colleague Valerie O. Patterson (The Other Side of Blue), Brie Shannon, and other friends.  The grilled seafood and naan (bread) was delicious!

Girls of Summer

It’s nearly 100 degrees in Richmond, and my air conditioner is broken. It’s going to take a lot to make me happy this week, folks.

So, thank God for a project I’ve been working on with my friend and fellow Candlewick author, Gigi Amateau.  It’s called Girls of Summer, and it’s our own answer to those official summer reading lists that used to suck the joy out of reading for both of us. How we kept reading, we’ll never know.

If you’re not familiar with our stuff, you should know that Gigi and I both write about strong girls. Hers are southern, mine Latina – but we write about tough cookies, and it turns out, those are the same the world over. This summer, as our own beautiful daughters are graduating from high school, we’ve decided to celebrate girl power through the thing we love most: writing.

Here’s a little taste of what we have in mind via a Mac-made trailer. (Thank you Chris Cheng at SCBWI for teaching me how!) But you’ll have to be patient. We’re still putting the finishing touches on things. In the next few weeks, we’ll roll out the blog with our selections and why we like them. We hope you’ll comment, read interviews with the authors and enjoy hearing snippets of work. Then on July 28, 2011 we’ll feature the list as part of James River Writers’ July Writing Show in Richmond, VA.  You’ll be able to hang out with librarians, teachers, kids, and writers — and you’ll meet Steve Watkins and Valerie Patterson, two Girls of Summer authors who will talk about writing YA with strong girls as the focus. Another reason to attend?  Thanks to extremely generous and enthusiastic publicists at more than a dozen publishers, there’s a drawing to win an entire set of the reading list.

So, stay tuned and stay COOL.

¡Mucho gusto!

Introductions are always a little awkward, except when you’re an author meeting kids of any age. Thankfully, they go right for what matters, no small talk. So here, by way of introduction, are my vitals in kid format.

I live in Virginia with my family (husband, mother-in-law, three teens), a black, shaggy dog (Noche) and a fierce hunting machine cat named Wolfe.

My house is, in fact, messy, especially around deadlines, when I forget to bathe and I wander around mumbling dialogue.

My favorite candy is MilkDuds, no matter what my dentist says. I buy the extra big box at the movies every time.

I write for about four hours a day at a little desk tucked in my livingroom. When I can’t think of what to write I walk Noche or throw in some laundry.

Yes, I speak Spanish and English. My family is from Cuba.

No. I’m not especially rich or famous. I don’t need extra big sunglasses or anything.

You can ask me other burning questions, and I’ll do my best to answer them.