Quick Recap #2: Asian American Children’s Author Blog Series

The summer is almost over, it’s time for another recap post!

Here’s who I’ve had on the blog so far:

(For Weeks 1-5 click here)

Week 6: Mitali Perkins, editor of Open Mic and author of Bamboo People

Week 7: Livia Blackburne, author of Midnight Thief

Week 8: Varsha Bajaj, author of Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood

Week 9: Uma Krishnaswami, author of The Problem with Being Slightly Heroic

Week 10: Fonda Lee, author of Zeroboxer

There are 5 more great authors coming up next month!

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Get to Know Asian American Children’s Authors: Fonda Lee, Author of Zeroboxer

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Our next author is Fonda Lee, author of the upcoming book, Zeroboxer. I am so intrigued by that title! (Adding it to my to-read list right now.)

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

Zeroboxer final cover copy

Fonda Lee: My novel, ZEROBOXER, takes place in a future in which Mars has been settled with the aid of genetic engineering, and tensions between Earth and its more prosperous colony are running high. My main character is a young prizefighter named Carr, who competes in the futuristic zero-gravity combat sport of zeroboxing, and ends up becoming a celebrity figure in the interplanetary conflict.

Carr’s strategist and love interest is a woman named Risha. Of all the characters I’ve written, I identify most strongly with Risha because she reminds me of myself when I was younger. Risha is half-Martian; she was born on Mars but raised on Earth, so while she considers herself Terran, she is also always aware of how she stands out as being Martian—not unlike the experience a lot of Asian Americans and other minorities go through. Risha is an ambitious workaholic with a keen head for business strategy, who masks her inner insecurities behind a cloak of over-preparedness—which is only a minor exaggeration of what I was like when I was working 60 to 80 hours a week as a twenty-two-year old management consultant. She also likes food and combat sports.

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

FL: I was a voracious reader. Fantasy and science fiction have been my narrative drugs of choice for a long time. I loved Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles, John Christopher’s Tripods Trilogy, Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising, and Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time, to name just a few.

My brain has always wanted to work and live in narrative. It loves nothing more than to follow a story, whether it be through books, film, comics, or television. There is something infinitely appealing about organizing our collective experiences, thoughts, fears, and hopes in the form of stories. We’ve been doing it since we were cavemen. I’m grateful that my parents encouraged my love of reading at a young age. I spent countless hours in libraries and bookstores.

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

FL: Read a lot, and read both broadly and deeply. Read fiction and non-fiction. Read different genres. This is especially important if you want to be a writer. Scan widely for what you like and when you gravitate toward something, dive deep to really understand it. I shake my head when I hear people say things like, “oh, I don’t read fiction” or “I don’t read YA” or “I don’t read comics.” There is something worthwhile, enlightening, or enjoyable about almost everything that is well done, and if you can appreciate it, it will open your mind to being a better reader and a better writer.

Asian American kids, in particular, I feel, are sometimes steered by well-meaning parents and peers toward the hard, technical fields. There’s a stereotype, often well reinforced, of the Asian quant jock who plays violin and goes on to medical school to become a brain surgeon. Every society has its naturally left-brained scientists, engineers, and doctors, as well as its writers, athletes, and fashion designers. There is, I think, a particular importance that practical-minded Asian American families sometimes place on the former at the expense of the latter. Take it from me: I did the practical finance degree and business career. I don’t regret it, but I wish I’d accepted earlier what my true calling was, even if making a living at it was still a ways away. Be true to yourself.

Thank you, Fonda!

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About the author:

Fonda Lee is an author and recovering corporate strategist who was born and raised in Calgary, Canada (land of hockey, rodeo, and oil reserves) and now lives with her family in Portland, Oregon (land of rain, hipsters, and Powell’s Books). When she is not writing she can be found training in kung fu or searching out tasty breakfasts. Her debut upper YA science fiction novel, ZEROBOXER, will be published by Flux in April 2015. You can find Fonda at www.fondalee.com and on Twitter @fondajlee.

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Get to Know Asian American Children’s Authors: Uma Krishnaswami, Author of The Problem with Being Slightly Heroic

Next up in this series is Uma Krishnaswami, the author of numerous books for all age ranges. Her newest book, The Problem with Being Slightly Heroic, is the sequel to critically acclaimed novel The Grand Plan to Fix Everything.

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

Uma Krishnaswami: I don’t think of myself as identifying with any of my characters. When I’m writing I’m simultaneously in their skins and at their sides, taking turns almost, dancing around inside the story and trying to bring it all to the page one or two layers at a time. Sometimes I’m close to a scene. At other times I may be hovering above the story trying to see its bigger picture. I have no time to stop and think about who I love most in that story. That’s not the way I see my job. I’m looking in many mirrors at once, playing with the story’s light and shadow and trying to figure out the lives of the fictional people I’m following. That said, it’s a treat for me when readers tell me they can identify with any of the people in my stories. Dini often gets mentioned this way, the main character in The Grand Plan to Fix Everything and The Problem With Being Slightly Heroic. I love getting those notes from kids because it means that the work I did in creating this illusion that we call story–that work has succeeded.

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

UK: Read generously. Read everything you can lay your hands on. Many viewpoints, many kinds of fiction and nonfiction. Question it all, and then make your own meaning for stories and for life.

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

Most recently, I’ve enjoyed reading Padma Venkatraman’s books. I’ve long admired Grace Lin’s work, and of course Linda Sue Park and Cynthia Kadohata. And the writer who led us all years ago with his groundbreaking books, Laurence Yep. Then there’s my colleague at Vermont College of Fine Arts, YA novelist An Na, who has some amazing new work due out in the next year or two.

Uma also answered my alternate question!

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

UK: I was. I was a voracious reader. We moved a lot when I was a child, and books were sometimes my friends. I think they also allowed me a place where I could dream and inhabit worlds very different from my own life, which seemed quite humdrum in comparison.

About the author:

Uma Krishnaswami was born in India and now lives in the United States. She teaches at Vermont College of Fine Arts, in the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults.

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Get to Know Asian American Children’s Authors: Varsha Bajaj, Author of Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood

The featured Asian American Author on the blog this week is Varsha Bajaj. Her newest book is Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood.

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

Varsha Bajaj: I identify with Abby because I recall how I felt when I first came to America, and how daunting and exciting a new culture and place can feel. I identify with Abby’s mother because I am a mother, and sending my daughter to a new country would be scary. I identify with Grandma Tara because she is kind and accepts Abby without reservations.

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

VB: My advice to Asian American and all kid readers would be read with a open mind and heart and to read everything you can get your hands on.

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

VB: I was a voracious reader as a kid and still am today. I love being introduced to new worlds and kids through books. Books invite you to “know” a character. I love stories, always have.

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About the author:

Varsha Bajaj was born in India and came to America as a graduate student in 1986. Varsha’s debut middle grade, Abby Spencer goes to Bollywood (Whitman, 2014), was released in March. Her upcoming picture book, Our Baby (Nancy Paulsen Books, summer 2016), will be illustrated by Eliza Wheeler. She published her first picture book, How Many Kisses Do You Want Tonight? (Little Brown, illustrated by Ivan Bates) in 2004.

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Mommy Read it Again: The Adventures of Beekle by Dan Santat

The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend

by Dan Santat

Preschooler Monkey found spotted this book at the library just as we were about to leave and had to take it home. My arms were already full of books, but she really liked the cover, and the librarians said it was a good one, so of course we checked it out. Toddler Monkey claimed it for herself at bedtime, and the next evening a small fight ensued when PM realized she hadn’t even gotten to read it yet (BTW hearing an almost 2 year old say “Beekle! Beekle!” is absolutely adorable). The story is about an imaginary friend who makes his way to the real world to find a child to play with.  Both the illustrations and text are so playful and imaginative, it’s easy to see why both the kids love it (and why I’ve renewed it a couple of times…).

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Get to Know Asian American Children’s Authors: Livia Blackburne, Author of Midnight Thief

Author Livia Blackburne’s brand new book, Midnight Thief just came out last month. If you haven’t read it already, OMG go out and by a copy now!!! (And, oh yeah, Livia happens to be a writing group buddy, so I might be just a little biased…)

Livia’s responses to my 3 questions:

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

Livia Blackburne: Probably Kyra [the main character of her new novel Midnight Thief], and to be honest, much of that is because I didn’t know enough about character development to separate her personality from mine when I started writing the novel :-) But a friend once mentioned to me (and it might have been you, actually!) that I write and enjoy reading about highly skilled socially awkward heroines.  And Kyra and I both kinda fit that description — we’re both introverts who get lost in tasks to the exclusion of common sense sometimes. Except she’s much more of a badass.  I mean, she gets into knife fights and breaks into secure compounds.  My skills range more on the nerdy side of things, think Big Bang Theory instead of Alias.

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

LB: If you have the opportunity to learn more about your cultural background, be it practicing the language or renewing ties with older relatives, take advantage of it.  The opportunity won’t be there forever.

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

LB: I was blown away by Marie Lu’s Legend.  Really action packed and
filled with tension throughout.

Thanks, Livia, for visiting Monkey Poop! (And see you at the next writing group meeting?)

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About the author:

Livia Blackburne wrote her first novel, Midnight Thief, while she was a PhD student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she conducted research on the neuroscience of reading acquisition in children. Upon graduation, she switched to writing full time. Livia still blogs about the intersection of literature and neuroscience.

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Get to Know Asian American Chidren’s Authors: Mitali Perkins, Editor of Open Mic and Author of Bamboo People

Mitali Perkins

Our next author in this blog series is one of my favorite authors, Mitali Perkins. I admire Mitali’s writing, her work ethic, and her outspoken activism. She tackles tough topics with aplomb and grace. (My review of Open Mic, her most recent book.)

Here are her answers to my questions:

open mic1) Which of your characters do you most identify with and why?

Mitali Perkins: Sunita of The Not-So-Star-Spangled Life of Sunita Sen is the most autobiographical of my novels. My grandparents came from India to stay with us in a mostly-white California suburb, and while our whole house didn’t become ultra-traditional like Sunita’s, I felt as caught between cultures as she does in the story. Also, the grandfather in the book is almost exactly like mine. But my main characters always come with a mix of desires, idiosyncrasies, and traits that reflect some part of me.

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

MP: Hang tough and wait for the payoff. If you survive growing up “between cultures” you gain a big advantage as an adult. You will always be able to cross cultural borders easily and make yourself feel at home anywhere. You are becoming proficient in two cultures, which will enable you to acquire mastery of a third or fourth culture much faster than your monocultural peers.

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

MP: I read constantly. I took sweet tart candies and library books out to the fire escape of our New York apartment and read every chance I could. Stories were my escape. They also allowed me to imagine different lives, and to understand what it might be like to have more, fewer, or different privileges than I did. This widened my world and changed my life.

About the author:

Mitali Perkins was born in India, immigrated to the United States with her parents and two sisters when she was seven, and studied political science at Stanford University and Public Policy at U.C. Berkeley. She’s the author of nine books, including Rickshaw Girl, which was chosen by the New York Public Library as one of the top 100 books for children in the past 100 years, and Bamboo People, which is an American Library Association’s Top Ten Novels for Young Adults and was starred and described in Publishers Weekly as “a graceful exploration of the redemptive power of love, family, and friendship.” Mitali lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family. 

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Get to Know Asian American Children’s Authors Series: Quick Recap

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been really enjoying this series! At first, I was worried about asking all the authors the same questions (which I did because I have about 15 authors lined up) but it has been fascinating to see how different author’s writing styles shine through even with their short responses. So cool.

Here are the authors I’ve had so far:

Week 1: Padma Venkatraman, Author of A Time to Dance

Week 2: Emily Jiang, Author of Summoning the Phoenix: Poems & Prose about Chinese Musical Instruments

Week 3: Wong Herbert Yee, author of Mouse and Mole

Week 4: Sayantani DasGupta, Co-Author of The Demon Slayers and Other Stories

Week 5: Nandini Bajpai, author of Starcursed

 

I’ll do these recap posts periodically, but you can also scroll to the “tags” at the bottom of each post to help find all the posts.

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Get to Know Asian American Children’s 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.

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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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