Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Summer means NOT writing, at least for a little while

Today is the last day of school.

And I am excited! Even though I don't go to school or work at a school anymore.

I'm excited because I get to sleep in almost every day. I'm excited because I will have more time to spend with my kids, who are growing up way too fast. I'm excited because summer brings hot weather, and hot weather in my part of the country usually brings thunderstorms!

And one more thing. I am excited because summer vacation means I will be forced to spend time away from my latest novel, a YA fairytale mashup/retelling written in verse, which I am tentatively calling WHERE THE PATH MEETS THE WOODS. I recently finished this project's second round of revisions. And now I need to leave it alone for a while.

That's a hard thing for me to do. Even as I write this, it calls to me. Pleads for my attention. But I will stay strong for at least as long as it takes my first readers to read it.

Time to soak up some sun, have a little fun, and spend more time reading than writing.

What are your plans for the summer?

Monday, May 19, 2014

Moosey Monday: Z is for Moose

It wouldn' feel right to celebrate the forthcoming What About Moose? without spreading the love for some of my favorite moose-related picture books! 

First up: Z is for Moose by Paul O. Zelinsky

I like this book because it is so different than most other alphabet books. No basic "A is for apple" format. This book is a story about a moose who is so anxious to be a part of the alphabet that he can't wait his turn! What will happen when the "M" page goes to Mouse rather than Moose? Z is for Moose is a fun way to share the alphabet with the youngest readers, and it's amusing enough to entertain those already well versed in the ABCs.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Moosey Monday: The great moose hunt

In celebration of my and Corey's forthcoming picture book, WHAT ABOUT MOOSE?, I thought it would be fun to set aside Mondays to celebrate moose in all their forms!

First up, the (not so) great moose hunt!

No, I didn't really set out to hunt moose. Not with a rifle, anyway. But I did vacation with my family last year in the beautiful Grand Marais, Minnesota, which, according to all the touristy informationy stuff, is home to plenty of moose. Having just received an offer for WHAT ABOUT MOOSE?, I had moose on the brain. I was determined to see a moose in the wild, and photograph it for my lovely writing partner.

We drove along highways with moose crossing signs, we meandered along back roads and up into the hills, we trekked through the woods with our eyes open wide. But we never saw a moose. We followed the maps to all the right places at the right times of day. But we never saw a moose. We did get startled by a big fat beaver, but that's a story for another day.

On our last day, as we drove away from Grand Marais, the thought going through my mind was, "What about moose?" I was beginning to think that moose were mythological creatures. Like the yeti!   But that's ridiculous, right? Maybe I'll never know...

So Corey had to settle for a postcard. And I had to settle for a picture of the Grand Marais water tower.

Small consolation.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Diversity in Fiction: A Window to the World

There has been a lot of discussion online about diversity in fiction lately, specifically with the WE NEED DIVERSE BOOKS campaign on twitter and tumblr. One of the points that I have seen brought up many times is this: we need diverse books because kids need to see themselves in fiction. I'm not disputing that. It's certainly true that it can be healthy for kids to see themselves--that is, characters with similar backgrounds, ethnicities, and struggles--in the books that they read, and in those books' authors. But if that is our primary focus, we encourage division* over diversity. More important than kids seeing themselves is them seeing each other

Diversity wasn't an issue when I was growing up. I had white friends. I had black friends. I had friends from Poland, Vietnam, and Laos. I had an adopted brother who who was black, and two adopted cousins from Korea. I was a military brat, so we moved all over the U.S.A., and lived in a small town in Germany for three years. When my dad retired when I was in middle school, we settled in a predominantly black neighborhood. As a teenager I dated, and eventually married, a man whose parents were Mexican immigrants.

Diversity? That was the world. At least, it was my world. The world was full of people who were both alike and different. That's how I saw it.

And it wasn't just the world I saw around me. It was the world I saw in books. I read a lot as a kid. Fantasies about journeys through Middle Earth. Adventures about people who were six inches tall. Contemporary fiction about cliques and popularity. Stories about dogs and horses and cats. Books about Native Americans, Muslims, black kids, Jewish kids. I remember being intrigued by the differences I saw in those characters, while at the same time connecting with them and their stories.

Characters are more than their skin color or nationality. They are more than their religion or cultural background. They are more than their ability or disability. Characters, even when they are written as animals or hobbits or aliens, are people. People that readers connect with on a much deeper level than what shows on the surface.

Therein lies the true reason we need diverse books. We don't need diverse books so that kids can see people that are just like them. We need diverse books so that kids can connect with people who are different than them. So that they can see that, as my daughter Julia so eloquently put it, "our struggles make us way more similar than our skin color could ever make us different."

My children understand this basic truth because we have never made race (or "diversity") a big issue in our family, even though many would say they are diverse because they are mixed race. They haven't suffered as readers because they haven't seen themselves--that is, kids who have both American and Mexican heritage--in books. They have looked beyond things like skin color, culture, and physical ability and have learned to connect with characters on a deeper level.

Books aren't meant to be mirrors. They are meant to be windows. Sure, we expect to see ourselves reflected back, but the real miracle of reading is when we see past the "me" on the glossy surface and into the diverse world beyond.

* We shouldn't try to fit people into snug little boxes that only divide us further. Diversity isn't us and them. It's everyone.