Get to Know Asian American Authors: Nandini Bajpai, author of Starcursed

Nandini Bajpai The next author in this blog series is Nandini Bajpai, author of the recently published Red Turban White Horse and Starcursed.red-turban-white-horse

1) Which of your characters do you most identify with and why?

Nandini Bajpai: I identify with all my main characters. Even though they are very different—Rishi is a 6th grader who loves baseball, Leela is a young scholar in 12th century India, and Mini loves fashion and art—they still all have some version of me in them. Leela is probably my favorite because her situation is the hardest and I’m a sucker for underdogs.

 

2) If you could give your Asian American kid readers one piece of advice, what would it be?

starcursed2NB: Please support the books you love by letting others know about them—word of mouth is an incredibly powerful way to help a book do better. And if you are a writer please write what you know. Even when writing fantasy, sci-fi, paranormal, dystopian or whatever ground it in your own culture, family, and community roots. Your life experience as an Asian American is interesting and worthy of sharing with others. Be authentic and be heard!

3) Who is your favorite Asian American children’s author right now (other than yourself)?

NB: Grace Lin. Love her artwork, her magical storytelling in Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, as well as her wonderful contemporary novels Year of the Dog and Year of the Rat. Year of the Dog was my daughter’s favorite book in middle school.

—-

About the Author:

Nandini Bajpai grew up in New Delhi, India, one of four sisters and many cousins, in a family that liked to read. She lived and worked in India, Australia, and the US, before settling in the Boston area with her husband, kids, and a fluctuating number and variety of pets. Although she dabbled in corporate finance, business analysis, and fostering shelter animals, her first love is writing. She is the author of Red Turban White Horse (Scholastic India, 2013), and Starcursed (Red Turtle India, 2013).

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Mommy Read it Again: I Lost My Tooth in Africa by Penda Diakité

I Lost My Tooth in Africa

by Penda Diakité (Author), Baba Wagué Diakité (Illustrator)

I stumbled across this book at the library while browsing and was drawn in by the hilarious and cute title. The story is about what happened when the author’s sister lost her tooth on a family trip to Mali (spoiler: there are chickens involved). The illustrations are eye-catching and joyful, and the story is just as fun as the title. Preschooler Monkey is very eager to lose a tooth now! (As I’m writing this, she’s upstairs playing with her cousin. “Let’s pretend we’re in Africa! I lost my tooth!”)

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Get to Know Asian American Children’s Authors: Sayantani DasGupta, Co-Author of The Demon Slayers and Other Stories

SayantaniDG

Our next author in this series is doctor-writer Sayantani DasGupta. I am a huge fan of Sayantani’s writing and am an avid follower of hers on twitter. (No, seriously, follow her!)

1) Which of your characters do you most identify with and why?

Sayantani DasGupta: Great question! I guess authors identify with a bit of any character they write. But I most identify with Kiranmala, the protagonist in my middle grade work in progress/on submission, “The Birthday I Slayed a Demon, Met a Swoony Prince and Kind of Saved New Jersey.” This adventure novel, based on many of the Bengali folktales I translated and re-interpreted in a 1995 book I co-wrote (with my mom!) called The Demon Slayers and Other Stories: Bengali Folktales (Interlink Books), is my take on the “immigrant daughter story.” As opposed to a lot of “immigrant novels” out there, which are sad, tragic tales of cultural confusion and loss or at least inspiration  (with no offense to the wonderful Amy Tan, this is often called “The Joy Luck Club Syndrome”), my immigrant experience wasn’t sad but rather, both joyous and frustrating, both humorous and transformative.

When I was a little girl, I would visit India almost every summer vacation, and a big part of how I learned about my culture and heritage was hearing from them these tales of bloodthirsty rakshas (demons), flying horses, brave princes and clever princesses. In the same way I entered Bengali culture through these stories, my protagonist Kiran literally has to leave  New Jersey and enter the fantasy world of these folktales. She has to return to the land from where she came in order to re-discover her strength and remember the importance of family in her life. In her case, that land just happens to be populated by bone-chewing, long toothed, ferocious rakshas! Luckily, she has the help of an equal parts infuriating and swoony prince to help her!

2) If you could give your Asian American kid readers one piece of advice, what would it be?

SDG: I would tell Asian American kid readers that there are so many terrific stories out there representing our experiences — seek them out! Ask your school or local library to order them if they are not already available there. Have your parents and teachers help you identify a diversity of stories for you to read. There’s nothing like opening up a book and ‘seeing yourself’ — the character doesn’t have to look exactly like you or even be from your same cultural background to resonate with you, but it does feel terrific when a character reflects your family’s heritage, customs, language or experience. So read widely, but demand specificity too!

3) Who is your favorite Asian American children’s author right now (other than yourself)?

SDG: There are so many amazing Asian American authors! Uma Krishnaswami, Sheela Chari, Grace Lin, Veera Hiranandani, Mike Jung, Wendy Wan-Long Shang … One of my favorite authors is Lisa Yee for sure. I love how she is able to use humor to reflect the joys of being Asian American (I hate it when the Asian American experience is only treated as a ‘problem’ in novels!). I also love how she is able to portray three dimensional, flawed yet loving families. Her Bobby vs. Girls books are terrific, as are her American Girl Kanani books, but my favorite books of hers are the Millicent Min, Girl Genius books!

Uma Krishnaswami, Sheela Chari, Grace Lin, and Mike Jung are all part of this blog series! Stay tuned…

4) Sayantani gets bonus points for answering my alternate question as well: Were you a reader growing up? Why or why not?

SDG: I was a huge reader growing up – but didn’t have the diversity of Asian American books that are available now, so I really enjoy reading these books now, and sharing them with my own kids!

————–

About the author:

Sayantani DasGupta is a kid’s doctor turned kid’s author. She is the co-author of The Demon Slayers and Other Stories: Bengali Folktales (Interlink, 1995), the author of a memoir about medical school, and co-editor of two academic collections. Her creative work has been published in diverse places including Ms., Z. Magazine, JAMA, The Hasting’s Center Report, The Lancet and Literary Mama, and anthologized in such collections as Dragon Ladies: Asian American Feminists Breathe Fire (South End Press, 1999), Bad Austen: The Worst Stories Jane Austen Never Wrote (Adams Media, 2011), Two and Twenty Dark Tales: Dark Retellings of Mother Goose Rhymes (Month 9 Books, 2012), and Break These Rules: 35 YA Authors on Speaking Up, Standing Out, and Being Yourself (Chicago Review Press, 2013). She also writes online at Feministing, Racialicous, Adios, Barbie, From the Mixed Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors, The Feminist Wire, Sociological Images, and Everyday Feminism.

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YA Book Review: Love Edy by Shewanda Pugh

loveedy

Love Edy by Shewanda Pugh

When the author emailed me asking if I’d review this book, I was excited to see an African American girl on the cover, but was more than a little worried about the genre–I don’t typically enjoy contemporary YA romance. However, I’m glad I gave it a chance. Shewanda Pugh is a seriously talented writer, and I was sucked in by her beautiful language from the very first page.

Love Edy centers on a girl named Edy Phelps (short for Edith) who hails from an elite African American family in Boston and who lives in a neighborhood of upper-class, uber-rich minorities living in the South End (think Gossip Girl in Boston but less snarky, and with more diversity). Next door to Edy lives the insanely hot football player Hassan Pradhan, who Edy has known since childhood. They’ve grown up together–Hassan’s mother practically raised Edy–and now she finds herself falling in love with him, despite growing parental pressures against their relationship. When a new guy, Wyatt, moves in across the street, tensions fly between the three of them, and meanwhile Edy still hasn’t even gotten her first period.

Pugh’s poetic writing style combined with her themes of excess versus poverty as well as some of the character relationships reminded me a lot of Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Boys series, which I really enjoyed (only without the paranormal treasure hunter part :) ). Edy is a wonderfully complex and believable character.

However, other than Edy, there are very few positive female characters in this book. At times, I was taken aback by the harshness of the language used about the other teenage girls in the novel who are constantly throwing themselves and their bodies at Edy’s (hot muscly) football team friends. While this is addressed somewhat in the novel, I wasn’t sure I was left with a good feeling about how girls in the novel were described.

I was also left a little unsure about Hassan’s character. While I was excited to see an Indian-American love interest with very realistic flaws in the novel, there were aspects to his portrayal that didn’t quite ring authentically for me. For example, he makes a comment about how Edy probably could count off more Indian gods than he could, something that I found an extremely strange thing to quantify, and I never really understood why Hassan and his father Ali have Muslim names when they are supposed to be Hindu (this is addressed but never truly answered). More importantly, I didn’t buy the big reason the star-crossed lovers Edy and Hassan couldn’t get together: that Hassan is supposed to marry someone else, someone he’s been promised to marry since childhood. Not only does this feel unusual in this modern day and age (a 9 year old kid taken to India to meet his future bride?), the constant references to the “centuries of tradition” keeping them apart felt very melodramatic, when in my view it would be very modern racism and prejudices keeping them apart. That said, I have a feeling that some of these questions I was left with might tie into the next book?

But perhaps the most problematic part of the novel was the plot. Somewhere around the 75% mark, the plot line takes a very strange and unnecessary turn, when what reads as a very well written, unique, and compelling contemporary teen romance turns into an action-thriller. Characters we were rooting for turn out unexpectedly, violence that wasn’t in the novel before suddenly appears, and the writing also felt like it dropped off. It felt like the author decided that the ending I was expecting—a powerful one with a parental confrontation, some character growth, and some dialogue about expectations and traditions—was too boring, and decided to insert more action in order to create a more exciting, less predictable climax (while leaving room for a sequel).

All in all, I was left completely unsure how to rate this one since the first 3/4 of the book was so wonderful and compelling. I don’t typically love romance, but I really, truly did get into this one. I loved the diversity of the cast, and I loved some of their intelligent conversations. Shewanda Pugh is clearly a talented author and definitely one I will  be watching out for in the future.

Review of ebook received free from the author.

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My critique group buddy’s book launches today!

Just a quick post to let you know that today is the launch of Midnight Thief by Livia Blackburne! If you love YA fantasy this book is for you. Livia is a member of my writing group and I saw many early versions of this (and the sequel TBA soon…)

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Get to Know Asian American Children’s Authors: Wong Herbert Yee, author of Mouse and Mole

Next in the blog series, I am honored to have Wong Herbert Yee, award-winning author and illustrator of the absolutely delightful Mouse and Mole series. (Side note: Preschooler Monkey loves Mouse and Mole!)

1) Which of your characters do you most identify with and why?

Wong Herbert Yee: That would have to be Mole from my Mouse and Mole early reader series. He’s dressed casual and comfortable. My favorite color is green too and he lives in an oak tree in the woods. What more could you want?

2) If you could give your Asian American kid readers one piece of advice, what would it be?

[see his answer below as part of #4]

3) Who is your favorite Asian American children’s author right now (other than yourself)?

WHY: I can’t say I have a favorite Asian author. For me that would mean I like everything they write which is rarely the case. I do have a favorite book by an Asian author though. A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park. Reading it made me wish I was a potter.

4) Were you a reader growing up? Why or why not?

WHY: We did not have many books in our household. With six brothers and sisters money went to clothing us and feeding us. We did attend public school however. One of the classes we had was Library. There were no computers, puzzles or stuffed animals back then, just rows and rows of books. In library class we picked a book from the shelf and sat down to read. When time was up we put it back. That was where I got my reading done. I am still a regular visitor at the local library. Find a book you like and read it. If you don’t like it, put it back and pick another. I guess that would be my answer to question #2.

About the Author:

Wong Herbert Yee lives in Detroit, Michigan and has written and illustrated numerous books including the Mouse and Mole series, Summer Days and Nights, Fireman Small, and Tracks in the Snow. In 2010, he received a Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Award for his book Mouse and Mole: Fine Feathered Friends.

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Get to Know Asian American Authors: Emily Jiang, Author of Summoning the Phoenix: Poems & Prose about Chinese Musical Instruments

Emily Jiang
The second author in our Asian American author series is Emily Jiang, author of the brand new book Summoning the Phoenix: Poems and Prose About Chinese Musical Instruments.

Here are Emily’s answers to my questions (in poems and prose!):

Summoning the Phoenix COVER small1) Which of your characters do you most identify with and why?

Emily Jiang: All my characters have a bit of me in them, even the villains.  It’s my personal opinion that the best stories have villains that feel like real characters equal to the main characters.  Because the most compelling antagonists should have motivations that feel real.  While I love my protagonists, I often actively try to make them different from me.  Typically the characters I most identify with are the secondary characters, like the best friend or the aunt or uncle or the music teacher.

All my characters

feel real to me–they are stars

in their own stories.

2) If you could give your Asian American kid readers one piece of advice, what would it be?

EJ: Embrace your artistic passion & stay in touch with your true friends.  Even if you have a day job, art and community of amazing people enriches life.

Create art and build

bonds with people who get you.

Life without regrets.

3) Who is your favorite Asian American children’s author right now (other than yourself)?

EJ: I know and admire so many wonderful Asian American children’s authors, and if I can only choose one, it would have to be the absolutely brilliant Linda Sue Park.  She fearlessly writes for audiences of all ages as well as writing across genres (poetry, contemporary fiction, science fiction, historical fiction).  Not only is Linda Sue Park a wonderful writer, but she is a generous speaker.  One year I heard her speak the keynote speech at three different conferences, and each speech was completely different and completely brilliant.  Even though she’s won the Newbery and other awards, she always maintains an air of openness and is so approachable in person.  I can only aspire to be morel like Linda Sue Park as a person and as a writer.

The best authors are

brilliant, generous, open,

and wholly themselves.

4) Alternate question if one of the above does not appeal to you: Were you a reader growing up? Why or why not?

When I was a child, I was extremely shy and books were my best friends.  I constantly carried a minimum of three with me everywhere I went.  Whenever my mom needed to run errands, I would ask to be dropped off at the library, where I read to my heart’s content.  I cannot imagine being a writer without being a huge reader first.

If you want to write,

Read!  Read everything in sight!

Books are your best friends.

————

About the Author:

Emily Jiang is the author of Summoning the Phoenix: Poems & Prose about Chinese Musical Instruments.  She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Saint Mary’s College of California and a BA in English from Rice University.  She wrestles with words everyday.  Sometimes she wins.  Sometimes, it’s a draw.  She blogs at:  www.EmilyJiang.com.

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MG Book Review: A Hitch at the Fairmont by Jim Averbeck

A Hitch at the Fairmont by Jim Averbeck is a middle grade mystery that takes place at San Francisco’s Fairmont hotel in the 1950s. The creepy, mysterious tone of the book is established right from the very first chapter where our main character, Jack, winds up checking out the dead bodies in the basement of the funeral home where his mother’s funeral is being held. When Jack is taken to live with his hideously (and hilariously) evil aunt at the Fairmont hotel, who should he happen to meet but the master of suspense himself, Alfred Hitchcock, right in time to help investigate Jack’s aunt’s very sudden disappearance.

The writing is vivid and cinematic, with witty dialogue, clever theatre-related metaphors, interspersed with action and slapstick comedy. Jack’s pathetic predicament instantly captures the heart, and the eponymous Hitch is a wonderfully fleshed-out character. The text is accompanied by storyboard style illustrations which, while captivating and completely appropriate to the story, were a little confusing in their placement at times. If there is any real drawback to the story, it is the length. At 400 pages, this is a whopper of a book, but for the most part the pacing is good, and the premise is so intriguing it’s fun anyway.

A must-read for cozy middle grade mystery fans.

PS Don’t miss the list of Hitchcock films at the back. I’m going to have to re-watch some of these!

Disclaimer: Review of ARC received free from the publisher.

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Get to Know Asian American Children’s Authors: Padma Venkatraman, Author of A Time to Dance

smaller Padma

Our very first author in this blog series is the award-winning and versatile author, Padma Venkatraman. Her latest book is A Time to Dance. (Side note: I absolutely love this cover and have already purchased my copy of the book!)

Padma kindly answered 3 questions for me about her writing.

a time to dance cover1) Which of your characters do you most identify with and why?

Padma Venkatraman: I identify with all my protagonists: Vidya of CLIMBING THE STAIRS because I had to fight just

as she had while growing up, because of my gender; Uido in ISLAND’S END because she’s a leader like I was; but, right now, probably Veda of A TIME TO DANCE most of all – because I went “method” when I wrote this book and spent time on crutches and with my leg bound, but also because I almost lost my leg as a teenager, after I was bitten by a snake.

2) Who is your favorite Asian American children’s author right now (other than yourself)?

PV: Laurence Yep, probably. He’s written very different types of stories – and I admire authors who excel at writing a wide variety of novels.

3) Were you a reader growing up? Why or why not?

PV: Absolutely. I had a very tough childhood, one that I wouldn’t wish on anybody, so books were my saving grace. They helped me escape sometimes, but more often, they helped me empathize, and helped me remain a good and kind kid, despite all I went through.

Reading is magical to me, because it involves my creativity (I’m making up a movie in my head as I read, a movie I direct), because books are time machines that transport me to other times and places and worlds, and because well written words cast spells that allow me to become another character and feel as that character feels.

Thank you Padma for taking the time to answer my questions!

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About the author:

Padma Venkatraman turned to writing after obtaining a doctorate in oceanography at the College of William and Mary and conducting post-doctoral research in Environmental Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. She has participated on panels at Harvard University and at the PEN World Voices Festival, provided commencement speeches at schools, given keynote addresses at teacher and librarian conferences as well as international festivals, and has been featured on TV and radio, nationally and internationally. She was also interviewed in the documentary Library of the Early Mind. An American, she lives in RI with her family. Her first two novels, Climbing the Stairs and Island’s End, won several honors and multiple awards and her latest (A Time to Dance), was released in May 2014 to starred reviews in Kirkus, Booklist, VOYA and SLJ. 

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Guest Post on Mackenzi Lee’s Blog

Today I have a guest post over at Mackenzi Lee’s blog. Head on over to check it out and see what I had to say about the books on my bookshelf.

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