A Diverse Walk in the Park

The flowers are all in Balboa Park. This is the "Crown Plant" from India—Calotropis gigantea.

The flowers are all in Balboa Park. This is the “Crown Plant” from India—Calotropis gigantea.

Finally, I’m getting to more of the books purchased at the 2014 SCBWI conference. Since I first read them so long ago, I’m currently rereading for the second and, in some cases, third time. Confession: I tend to gobble when I read. So I’m getting the subtler flavors on the second readings. These dishes are like the recipes I try out and decide to save to cook another time.

They also help me learn how to concoct original meals—how to present the appetizer, pair ingredients, gauge cooking time—how to achieve peak flavor.

I need to stop thinking about food now.

Skin I'm InWhen I finished the second reading of The Skin I’m In, my first thoughts (after “great book”), were “Maleeka had to learn to be brave enough to be who she is” and “Isn’t that what we all have to do in life?”

The ingredients: a protagonist who feels too tall, too skinny, too poorly-dressed and too dark-skinned; a classmate who bullies through “friendship”; a sweet early romance; a character we question, friend or foe. Sharon G. Flake’s story becomes a case of the whole being more than the sum of its parts.

But don’t just take my word for it. The Skin I’m In, published by Jump at the Sun and reissued in 2007, won the John Steptoe Award for New Talent.

I never really liked hibiscus—such showoffs and I didn't like that pink much, but the zoo has hibiscus that deserve to flaunt it.

I never really liked hibiscus—such showoffs and I didn’t like that pink much, but check out the stamen on this one.

Fake IDFake I.D. Stop before you read past the title. What do you think the book will be about? Wasn’t what I expected.

Even though I already knew what the fake i.d. refers to on this second reading, I liked the book as much as I did on the first read. I’m more aware of the strength of the voice. When Nick cranks up his iPod to drown out his parents’ argument, he says he “fell asleep with a rapper shouting at me. At least his yelling had a good beat.”

And thinking about his specific voice helps me understand more of how to approach it as a writer since we so often hear editors and agents say they

Another one to challenge my previous limited ideas about hibiscus

Another one to challenge my previous limited ideas about hibiscus

are looking for a “unique voice.” Nick’s voice is true to his character which isn’t over-the-top flamboyant or regional or any of the things we might think of as a “distinctive” voice. He is real within his point of view.

Fake I.D., written by Lamar Giles and published by Amsted in 2014, is a young adult coming-of-age, murders (plural)-mystery thriller. If you don’t want any violence in your YA reading, be forewarned, but it’s not a horror book.

When you read it, check out the dedication. Sweetest murder mystery dedication I ever read.Kira-Kira

Kira-Kira, the middle grade novel written by Cynthia Kadohata and published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers in 2004, won the Newbury Award. That should be enough to write.

But I won’t let that stop me.

Katie is a Sansei child born in Iowa in 1951. She adores her older sister, Lynn, who “always said she would teach me everything in the world I needed to know.” When the family has to move to Georgia, together they navigate the prejudice and struggles their family encounters.

A true case of "if you've got it, flaunt it!"

A true case of “if you’ve got it, flaunt it!”

But some things the heart needs to know cannot be taught. They have to be experienced directly. This heartbreaking and heart-mending story is the kind of book I would have treasured as a child and do as an adult.

A Long Walk to Water, by Linda Sue Park, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2010, intertwines two stories, both set in Southern Sudan. In 2008, eleven-year old Nya spends her day obtaining the family water. I don’t know if this character is an actual individual or a composite based on the reality of daily life for many.A Long Walk to Water

The second story is based on the life of Salva Dut, one of the Lost Boys. In 1985, Salva was eleven years old when his teacher told his students to escape gunfire by running into the bush and to not return to his village, which would be a target for soldiers. Silva’s story is gripping and inspiring.

Final thought: The more we celebrate our diversity, the more we find the depth of our common humanity.

While I’m trying to shed more of my possessions, these books are staying to be read again.

One last hibiscus from the zoo. This one is delicate and fading, but still beautiful.

One last hibiscus from the zoo. This one is delicate and fading, but still beautiful.

A Dickens of a Time: Life Punches and Three Books

The best of times and the worst of times—joy and sorrow—a time of souls joining, souls going, and souls coming—life goes on.

Chuppah for Brad and Jessica's wedding. I assembled the messages written on the leaves by family and friends. It will now be made into a quilt.

Chuppah for Brad and Jessica’s wedding. I assembled the messages written on the leaves by family and friends. It will now be made into a quilt.

I miss you, Mary.

I miss you, Mary.

Books have always helped me navigate life—to find solace, direction, joy, strength, empathy. Can books really do all that?

 

Fletcher's Foot

 

 

When my son’s birthdays involved one digit numbers, he always wanted pirate parties—always. I still buy him pirate socks and pick up pirate books.

This year my son asked for a "cake" for his tortoise. I think my son wants to see if I'll take the bait.

This year my son asked for a “cake” for his tortoise.  I think my son wants to see if I’ll take the bait.

Mem Fox’s Tough Boris, illustrated by Kathryn Brown and published by Houghton Mifflin in 1994, is a textbook (without the boring) example of the picture book ballet. Deceivingly simple text and illustrations that tell half the story dance a pas de deux. (Writers and illustrators, take note.)

This is the kind of book that can convince people they can sit down and write a picture book in a couple of hours—tops. Those people probably also believe a dancer can learn to move gracefully en pointe in the same amount of time. It looks effortless, right?

Tough BorisTough Boris will delight you and your child and touch your hearts. I’ve already used more words to tell you about the book than you’ll find in the story. And I didn’t even mention what a lesson in rhythm the book is for me. (Writers, take note. Just listening to Mem Fox read Hattie and the Fox helped me go back to two of my picture book manuscripts and give them needed punch.)

Dad SaysWhen a Dad Says “I Love You” was written by Douglas Wood, illustrated by Jennifer A. Bell, and published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers in 2013.

Do you read Pickles on the comics page? If so, you are probably giving Earl an A for effort as he tries to say the “I love you” words to his adult daughter.

The dads in this picture book have lots of ways to say “I love you”.

Yaqui DelgadoYaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, by Meg Medina and published in 2013, is a young adult book that should make Candlewick Press proud they chose to publish it.

If I said it’s a story about bullying, that would be true. But this diverse book is so much more. For much of the book, Piddy doesn’t even know who Yaqui Delgado is or why she wants to kick Piddy’s ass. We, the readers, don’t know either.

I’m trying to decide how much to say—not even sure if I should tell you what the book is not. This much is probably okay: The book is not the typical story of taming or beating the bully. Piddy has to look at the way she changes as she tries to deal with the problem of Yaqui Delgado.

Meg Medina’s distinctive voice transcends her specific character to give us a universal every girl. We all have to find how we can stay the person we choose to be while confronting situations or people who beat that person down.

Rabindra Sarkar builds these and takes them down at the end of each day. Different stacks every day. We saw his work at Seaport Village when we were there for a birthday celebration.

Rabindra Sarkar builds these and takes them down at the end of each day. Different stacks every day. We saw his work at Seaport Village when we were there for a birthday celebration.

Which picture books do you know that add up to more than words and pictures of just those words?

First Rocky has to eat her greens.

First Rocky has to eat her greens.

And which books help you deal with life’s challenges? As life goes on . . .

Then she gets dessert.

Then she gets dessert.