Allison's Book Bag

Today’s guest post is by Lynn Joseph, author of Flowers in the Sky, which I’ll review here tomorrow. Save the date: April 19!

LynnJoseph_GuestAlthough Joseph’s family moved from Trinidad to Maryland, when she was a young girl, Joseph returned to Trinidad every summer. Consequently, she grew up feeling as if she lived two separate lives. She explains in her About Me that her writing arose from homesickness for Trinidad. “I missed Trinidad so much; riding my bike everywhere, building forts in the hills, and just limin’ (hanging out) with friends. I also missed the steel pan music, and the joy I felt in Trinidad. The energy on my island is incredible.”

Trinidad culture influenced her writing in other ways too. “Trinidad is a mish-mash of cultures and traditions, including African, Indian, Chinese, Amerindian, Syrian, British and French. This lively, multi-cultural environment was invigorating for me as a budding writer.” As such, Joseph attended plays written by authors from diverse backgrounds. Her father took her to hear the steel bands practicing for Panorama competitions. And she attended a three-day Hindu wedding, to name a few influences. When about eight, Joseph began showing that impact by writing about pulling seine (fishing) and jumbies (ghosts) that lived in the cemetery next to her school.

Influences other than Trinidad also impacted her writing. During the summers, she and her siblings would walk twice a week to a drive-in to watch the double features. Her brother is now a filmmaker and actor. She also grew up with music playing in their house and hanging out with friends at a local record shop. Like most writers of young adult books, Joseph is stuck in a teenage time zone where she reads more young adult books, listens to more teen music, and sees more teen movies than adult ones.

At the end of the day, what she feels most inspires her books are her travels to different countries and cultures.

I realized that kids and teenagers are the same no matter where you go, they really are remarkably special in their curiosity and wonderment and once you can see that, it inspires characters and stories set in their world, but which embrace universal themes.

–Lynn Joseph, The Brown Bookshelf

          Writing Across Racial/Cultural Barriers for Authentic Multicultural Storytelling
by Lynn Joseph

On March 15, 2014, the N.Y. Times published an article entitled “The Apartheid of Children’s Literature.” It was written by African-American children’s and young adult author Christopher Meyers and it began:

“Of 3,200 children’s books published in 2013, just 93 were about black people, according to The Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin.”

Myers ended his article by saying he was going to do his part to make a change: he would write books that give readers of color broader horizons, books to motivate their imaginations and to represent for these children, the ones marginalized and unrepresented, “an expansive landscape upon which to dream.”

At the Vermont College of Fine Arts, students in the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults are asking the question, how can we help? Can we, mostly White students, create stories across cultures that would help, not hurt the multicultural representation in children’s literature? In other words, how can we write authentically about other races and cultures?

As a writer, a mother, and a person of color, I live with this question every day. How do I represent my own culture authentically to my children, to readers in my books, and to myself, when all I knew growing up was books about White children? When I was educated predominately in White institutions, and where the neighborhood I chose to raise my kids from high school years up is a predominately White one? To me, the issue is not one of race or color or even where I was born.

The real issue for writers is always how to find the heart and truth of the story you are writing. So when that story crosses racial, cultural and language barriers, then the issue becomes: How to find the heart and truth to cross those barriers in order to present authentic multicultural stories for children?

It took me two years of traveling back and forth between New York and the Dominican Republic, two years of learning about the Dominican culture, living with Dominicans, spending time in their homes, eating meals with them, dancing, laughing, crying and sharing holidays, elections, and stories with them before I was able to write The Color of My Words. The Dominican culture in that story is vastly different from my own middle class Trinidadian lifestyle. And in order to write it authentically, I had to live it first.

I’m not saying an author needs to do the same things I did. Each writer should find his or her own path to understanding a culture deeply and authentically enough to portray it in fiction. What I am saying, however, is that it is not as simple as tasting the food, or interviewing a few people from the country. Learning about a culture is not something that can be internalized on a two-week vacation.

Rudine Sims Bishop, an expert in diversity in children’s literature describes cultural authenticity as “the extent to which a book reflects the worldview of a specific cultural group and the authenticating details of language and everyday life for members of that cultural group.”

I’ve developed my list of eight ways in which a writer can create an authentic multicultural story.

  •  Read Books About and From That Culture
  •  Travel & Research
  •  Build Relationships & Participate in the Culture
  •  Co-Author the Story with Someone of that Race/Culture
  •  Establish an “Outsider Looking In” Narrative Stance
  •  Write an Author’s Note to Explain Your Connections
  •  Be Aware of Pervasive Stereotypes in Which a Culture is Portrayed
  •  Create Unique Sensory Descriptions To Transcend Those Stereotypes

Educators, psychologists, librarians and many others have long been aware of the damaging effects of the one-sided views in children’s literature. In her seminal 1965 essay, “The All-White World of Children’s Books” published in the Saturday Review, Nancy Larrick astutely observed:

“There seems little chance of developing the humility so urgently needed for world cooperation, instead of world conflict, as long as our children are brought up on gentle doses of racism through their books.”

The diversity in children’s literature dialogue is opening up for real changes to occur.  But increasing diverse literature means publishing stories that enlarge our children’s world view not perpetuate stereotypes and misrepresentations. Be careful. Be sensitive. Be aware. In the words of Rudine Sims Bishop, the good news is that  multicultural literature possesses the “potential to be transformative, it has the potential to change the world.”

LynnJosephMost of Lynn Joseph’s books take place in Trinidad or the Dominican Republic for natural reasons. Joseph herself was born and raised on the island of Trinidad in the West Indies. In our below interview, I ask general questions about her life. Her guest post, which will appear here tomorrow, will focus on the topic of diversity in young adult literature. On Saturday, I’ll review her newest book, Flowers in the Sky. Save the dates: April 18-19!

Like many writers, Joseph grew up surrounded by books. Her mother loved then and read Shakespeare to her and her sister as bedtime stories. According to The Brown Bookshelf, from the time Joseph was six, she was making up stories in her head and often telling them out loud to herself. She began writing creatively at eight years old, starting with poetry.

Her About Me states that when Joseph was not yet ten, the family moved to Maryland. Growing up, Joseph attended an all-girls high school in Baltimore, where she wrote for the school newspaper and the literary magazine. At 16, she got a summer job with a magazine in Trinidad and they featured her stories on life in an American high school.

After graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in English, Joseph moved to New York to work in the publishing industry. She ended up in the Children’s Book Department of Harper & Row , where she learned everything about children’s book writing from editors there. However, she felt too shy to give them her first novel and so she sent it to another editor who accepted it.

Lynn went on to attend law school because she was fascinated by how laws develop and change to reflect or create history, especially constitutional and civil rights laws. By 1993, she had graduated from law school, was married, had a son, and a job at a top law firm. Along the way, she wrote children’s books.

Then tragedy struck, September 11th, 2001, a day no one will forget. The family left New York and relocated to a tiny island in the Caribbean. The tragedy stayed with Joseph. She never did another trial. It was also years before she started writing again.

Now Joseph is back in New York, loving the beaches of Long Island and the mountains of the Catskills. She works as a part-time lawyer, but is also a writer. Joseph reveals in her About Me that one day her son left his Recovery CD in her Jeep by accident, Joseph heard Eminem’s song “Not Afraid,” and the intensity of the music got her to write seriously again.

ALLISON: Talking about growing up in Trinidad.

LYNN: Growing up in Trinidad, I lived next to the Diego Martin River and from about seven years old I began taking long rambles by the river by myself (it was quite safe to do so) and I’d see all kinds of adventure stories playing in my head. The memory is vivid and to this day I still take long walks mostly along beaches in order to slip into my story world so I can see what will happen next. I hear entire dialogues and see whole scenes unfolding in my mind as I walk. That’s why it’s imperative that I live near a beach so I can go on these magical walks. Growing up in Trinidad I rode bicycles, climbed trees, hiked the mountains, swam in the sea and read a lot of books while laying on the cool porch steps.

ALLISON: What foods do you miss? What new foods have you discovered?

LYNN: The food I miss the most is roti. I also miss the homemade ice-cream from the local fruits such as sapodilla and passion fruit.

ALLISON: What activities do you miss? What new activities have you discovered?

LYNN: I don’t miss any activities, because all of the fun outdoor hiking, biking, and swimming I did there I continued to do wherever I went. When I attended the University of Colorado, I hiked the Rocky Mountains and learned to ski and ice skate. When I lived in New York, I hiked the Catskill Mountains. I also lived in Long Beach, NY, just a block from the Atlantic Ocean, so even if I couldn’t swim in it because of the cold, I could still see it and walk on the sand. Recently, I’ve lived in Bermuda and I am now moving back to Tobago after a very long time living away from my home.

ALLISON: Talk about your experiences of attending an all-girls Catholic school. Have did it contrast with a public school? What was valuable about the experience?

LYNN: Attending an all-girls Catholic high school was awesome as I made life-long friends. Compared to my sons’ public high school in Long Beach, my Catholic School was not very different. We wore uniforms and it was all girls, but other than that, the curriculum was very much the same and the extra-curricular activities were the same in terms of sports, cheerleading, gymnastics, the school newspaper and literary magazine. There were two all boys Catholic Schools near my all-girls one so we had school dances and intermingled a lot. What is different of course is all the social media and texting and Facebook and Instagram connections with friends, which is distracting to me. I’m not sure I would have done as well in school if I had access to all these different distractions in my time.

ALLISON: How do you balance having two homes? (I kind of relate, being originally from Canada but having lived in the United States now for fifteen years.) Do you ever return to Trinidad?

LYNN: I have two homes because I maintain a U.S. residence to be close to my sons who are now in college. I spent a lot of time during the colder months in Bermuda, where I was researching a new novel and teaching writing workshops. Now I am working on a book set in Trinidad & Tobago so I am moving back home to immerse myself in the culture again and prepare to write that book.

ALLISON: As an adult, you moved to New York to work in publishing. What is the most memorable lesson you learned from this job?

LYNN: The most memorable thing I learned while apprenticing at a publishing house in New York right out of college was that stories — children’s and YA’s and all stories– have a pattern and a symmetry to them. They structure of a story usually follows the mythical journey of the hero as described by Joseph Campbell in his book The Hero With a Thousand Faces. After studying stories and myths from numerous cultures, Campbell noticed their pattern. Long before l knew about Joseph Campbell and his Hero’s Journey, I picked up on that same pattern from all the reading and editing I was observing.

ALLISON: How has being a lawyer helped or hindered your writing?

LYNN: Being a lawyer hinders my writing in that it takes a lot of my time and I use a different part of my brain for it such that it exhausts my brain enough and I can’t even turn on my creative side. How does it help? Well, I can do my legal work from anywhere in the world so it allows me to still make a living while I travel and do research for my books. I switch days I do legal work and days I do creative work.

ALLISON: How did your ten-year break from writing help or hurt?

LYNN: My ten-year break from writing was not on purpose. It helped, however, because when I was ready to write again I realized I needed to have some writing instruction to develop my craft to be a better writer. So I applied to and got into the Vermont College of Fine Arts and I attended their MFA program for Writing for Children’s and Young Adult. I graduate in July 2014 and I know that the courses, lectures, workshops and faculty advisors helped my writing skills grow tremendously. I highly recommend that school to anyone considering writing children’s books.

ALLISON: On your website, you shared about having a summer job at age 16 where you worked for People and had your stories on American life featured. What led you to move from writing about American life (including interviewing movie stars!) to writing about Trinidad?

LYNN: The articles I did for the People magazine and for the newspapers were all journalistic type writing, so more fact based. When it was time to write creatively, my stories and characters came out Caribbean. Maybe because you can take the girl out of the Caribbean but you can’t . . . you know. It’s in my blood and soul. I tried writing a new book featuring a white American boy narrator and it just didn’t work at all.

ALLISON: You don’t live in Trinidad now. How do you naturally integrate that culture into your stories?
Is there an author base in the Dominican Republic?

LYNN: The issue of increasing diversity in children’s and young adult novels is a huge topic right now, and I am glad to see that. It is sad that I can not find any books for my teenage sons which featured boys of color on the covers. I wanted regular stories for them with narrators they could identify with. So, I just finished writing a novel about a mixed race boy with locks, his mother is from Trinidad and his father is white American and he lives in Long Beach, NY and is a surfer. It is a contemporary story but that is my effort to help make a change. My other books have always featured Caribbean cultures in their stories, but this new book features the American culture and the problems of cyber-bullying from the eyes of a mixed race kid.

Do not be fooled. The Stamp Collector by Jennifer Lanthier is not a light-hearted romp through the glorious world of collecting stamps. Instead it is a disturbing albeit hopeful story inspired by two real-life writers who were imprisoned for what they wrote. The Stamp Collector tells of a boy from the city who collects stamps and grows up to become a guard and a boy from the country who loves words and is sent to prison as an adult for a story he wrote. The postmarks, Chinese characters, and backgrounds in the richly-textured illustrations depict China.

If you think the subject-matter makes for overly dark content in a picture book, you would not be wrong. Indeed, Lanthier shares in her interview with me that she was horrified after writing The Stamp Collector. “I knew it was almost unpublishable.” Lanthier’s sentiment reminds me of an article I read recently about another author who had written about the equally mature topic of fertility. It also reinforces a question which I have often wondered about, which is when and how to discuss adult issues in a children’s book. Many children’s authors seem to turn to writing biographies, which often have an uneven appeal for me depending on how heavy-handed the message is. In the case of the author who wanted to share his family’s fertility struggles, he decided to tell a story instead of two elephants that struggled to have their own baby. In other words, he disguised a serious topic in a cute framework. Lanthier took the opposite approach. While there is a sense of wonder to her story, because of its emphasis on the power of stamps and of words, The Stamp Collector is also a heart-wrenching story about what can happen to a writer in a society that does not value freedom of expression.

What approach then should one take towards The Stamp Collector? In her interview with me, Lanthier says that she tries not to read The Stamp Collector to very young children. Yet isn’t that the typical audience for picture books? Yes and no. Lanthier points out that, “for ages eight through 80 or older, it seems to work”. Due to the intensity of the subject matter, I would agree with restricting The Stamp Collector to slightly older readers and even add that it would benefit from the loving guidance of an adult.

However, Lanthier is right to believe that her book may be of interest to older kids. The Stamp Collector could be used to encourage letter-writing and social action. Kids of most any age can sign petitions. Even better, imagine being part of a collective effort to reassure writers in prison that they are not forgotten by writing postcards and letters to them. And if one remains dissatisfied with the book’s unhappy ending? Lanthier tells of one Toronto class who adapted The Stamp Collector into a play where “the villagers rose up and demanded freedom of expression and the release of the writer”.

The Stamp Collector isn’t an easy book to digest. One review even called it, “a suffocating experience”. Yet it’s also about such a unique topic, and told in such a poignant way, I consider it full of potential. Many awards have been bestowed upon The Stamp Collector. Countless readers have written Lanthier to tell her how much it made them cry but how they also loved it. You might just decide it’s worth being part of your reading experience too.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

Tomorrow I’ll review The Stamp Collector by Jennifer Lanthier. The picture book was inspired by the writer Nuremuhamet Yasin who was sentenced to ten years in a Chinese prison for writing a short story called The Wild Pigeon and the exiled journalist Jiang Weiping who had spent six year in a Chinese prison for a series of investigative articles he wrote exposing the corruption of a government official.

According to the back pages in The Stamp Collector, Lanthier met Jiang Weiping while volunteering for PEN Canada. She asked Jiang Weiping if there was at any point in writing letters to prisoners who weren’t allowed to see them. He said yes, “because the guards collect stamps”.

To enrich my understanding of The Stamp Collector, I researched the two writers which served as inspiration to Lanthier, as well as PEN Canada. It might also be of interest that the consensus of online reviews seems to be that the postmarks and Chinese characters used in the illustrations suggest a thinly-disguised China.

NUREMUHAMET YASIN

The author was detained by the Chinese authorities after the publication of his short story, The Wild Pigeon, because of his strong portrayal of a people deeply unhappy with life under Beijing’s rule. According to PEN Canada, he received a ten-year-sentence in November 2004 during a closed trial and with no legal representation. Below are links to the story itself, as well as a letter written by Jennifer Lanthier to protest his imprisonment.

JIANG WEIPING

A history major, this journalist veteran served as the northeast China bureau chief for a Hong Kong-based newspaper. Then in December of 2000, he was arrested after he published a series of eight reports about the Communist party corruption in a Hong Kong magazine. He received an eight-year sentence on charges of revealing state secrets, but was granted early release in 2006.

The sentence drew protest from journalist advocacy organizations around the world. Weiping wrote later that he was tortured by police in an attempt to force a false confession; he stated that he lost consciousness several times and once required hospitalization. After a guard agreed to deliver letters to Jiang’s wife, who had them published in Asia Weekly, Weiping reported that his treatment improved.

After a period of house arrest, Weiping obtained political asylum in Canada. Since 2009, he has lived in Ontario, with his wife and daughter. He continues working as a freelance journalist and calligraphist.

Below are links to relevant items of interest, including an article by Jiang Wieping:

PEN Canada

A portion of the proceeds of The Stamp Collector will go to PEN Canada, which is a branch of PEN International. On its website, PEN Canada lists the below descriptors of itself:

  • Helps free writers who are persecuted and, in many countries, imprisoned and tortured simply for expressing themselves.
  • Fights censorship and defends the right to freedom of expression. PEN has intervened in a number of landmark legal cases in the name of journalistic integrity and artistic freedom.
  • Educates Canadian students, through visits to schools made by writers in exile, about the importance of freedom of expression.
  • Researches and documents contemporary international violations of freedom of expression.
  • Programs Freedom to Read Week (in partnership with the Toronto Public Library), an event that emphasizes the central role
  • that free speech plays in any open and democratic society.
  • Supports refugee writers seeking amnesty from persecution in Canada by providing various opportunities, such as placement in residency programs at universities and other institutions.
  • Promotes literature through a series of annual literary events designed to stimulate dialogue, entertain, and celebrate writers and writing.

The Stamp Collector

Reception to The Stamp Collector has been overwhelmingly positive. Below are a few of its honors and awards:

  • October 2012: Indigo Books and Music, Canada’s largest book retailer, selected The Stamp Collector as their firm founder’s pick. The designation landed featured placement of The Stamp Collector in hundreds of stores nationwide.
  • January 2013: The United States Board on Books for Young People named The Stamp Collector to its USBBY 2013 Outstanding International Books Honor List. The USBBY is the U.S. national section of the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY).
  • February 2013: The Children’s Literature and Reading Special Interest Group, a nonprofit organization chartered by the International Reading Association (IRA), selected The Stamp Collector for the Notable Books for a Global Society Award.
  • March 2013: The Ezra Jack Keats Foundation awarded Lanthier its New Writer Honor for The Stamp Collector. The Ezra Jack Keats Foundation is a non-profit organization founded by the late Keats and dedicated to enhancing the love of reading and learning in all children.
  • April 2013: The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators awarded the Crystal Kite Award to The Stamp Collector. The Crystal Kite Awards are chosen by other children’s book writers and illustrators, making them the only peer-given awards in publishing for young readers.
  • September 2013: Both awards are administered by The Canadian Children’s Book Centre selected The Stamp Collector as a finalist for both the Canadian Children’s Literature Award and the Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award. The latter honors excellence in picture book illustration.
  • June 2013: The Huguenot Society of Canada Award, presented by the Ontario Historical Society, honored The Stamp Collector for bringing “public awareness to the principles of freedom of conscience and freedom of thought”.

JenniferLanthierBoth a journalist and a children’s book author, Jennifer Lanthier was born and raised in Ontario. She studied political science and history at the University of Toronto, where she also served as a member of the student government and contributed to student newspapers. As part of her graduate studies, Lanthier studied journalism as well as served as interned at the Ottawa Citizen. Since then, she has worked as a speech writer for the Ontario premier, a writer for various publications, and contributed to national magazines.

Lanthier’s first book, a middle grade novel called The Mystery of the Martello Tower, was published in 2007 and later nominated for a Snow Willow Award or a Saskatchewan Young Reader’s Choice Award. Martello has been included in numerous competitive reading programs over the years in both Canadian and American schools. Its sequel, The Legend of the Lost Jewels, has also been featured in reading competitions. The settings of both books were inspired by locations in Lanthier’s home province of Ontario.

Volunteering with PEN Canada, Lanthier met the exiled journalist Jiang Weiping, which inspired her first picture book. Tomorrow I’ll provide some background to The Stamp Collector and on Wednesday I’ll review it. Save the dates: April 15-16!

Lanthier and family reside in Ontario, Canada, where she coaches girls’ basketball and attends every Toronto Raptors home game. She is an avid runner and has a black belt in Taekwondo. Recently, Lanthier took time from her busy life to answer a few questions.

ALLISON: How did a political science major end up a picture book author?

JENNIFER: Political science was a long time ago! It was a long, twisty road to writing The Stamp Collector. I’ve always made my living (more or less) by telling stories. I’ve been a wire service and newspaper journalist, a speechwriter and “communications strategist” for the premier of Ontario (the American equivalent would be something like the governor of a state) and the first two books I published were mystery novels for middle grade readers, published by HarperCollins Canada. I’ve also been a volunteer basketball coach, a marathon runner, a mother of three and (finally) a black belt (just the first dan) in taekwondo. I think it all goes into the mix somehow.

ALLISON: The Stamp Collector is not a typical picture book. It is about adults. In China. In prison. What obstacles did you encounter, if any, in finding a publisher?

JENNIFER: I was horrified when I wrote The Stamp Collector. I knew I’d just written a picture book (something I’d sworn I’d never do) and I knew it was almost unpublishable.

There are a lot of reasons why a publisher would reject it. It’s not funny. (Funny is huge in picture books right now.) The characters grow up (Today’s picture book characters never grow up. They stay kids or they stay animals with the persona of a cranky toddler). Also, my characters are not white. Sadly, that’s a thing.

Throw in the fact that much of the story takes place in a prison and one of the main characters dies and nothing about this book says picture book–let alone bestseller.

I knew it would take time to find a publisher and it did. I don’t have an agent so I packaged it up and sent it out to any and all publishers accepting unagented submissions, with an emphasis on publishers that I knew had taken risks with what are called “socially conscious” books. All but one rejected it.

But it just takes one, and Christie Harkin at Fitzhenry believed in the story. And she found the perfect illustrator in Francois Thisdale. I wrote the book in the spring of 2009 and it came out in the fall of 2012 but it was worth the wait.

ALLISON: What has been the reaction of young readers to The Stamp Collector?

JENNIFER: I’ve been touched and honoured by the reaction of readers young and old. I do try not to read The Stamp Collector to very young children. The story is simple and fairly easy to follow and the art, by Francois Thisdale, is mesmerizing–so it will hold their attention. But if you are younger than seven or eight, it can be hard to grasp the hope in the story. I have watched parents read it to kindergarteners and you can see the joy drain from their faces. I don’t recommend it. But for ages eight through 80 or older, it seems to work.

Many people who attend my readings or workshops are surprised and horrified to learn that in some countries you could be sent to prison for writing a short story, a poem, a song, a blog. And many people have come forward afterwards to tell me that this is exactly why they left their country and came to Canada – for the freedom to tell a story like the story of The Stamp Collector, and the freedom to gather in a public library and listen to such a story, without fear of reprisals.

Sometimes I get emails or letters from kids telling me the book was too sad and made them cry and they wish it had a different ending. Sometimes I get emails and letters saying the book was THE SADDEST BOOK EVER and it made them cry and they loved it and it’s their favourite book of all time.

One class here in Toronto was so frustrated by the story, they adapted it into a play and gave it a happy ending. It was brilliant – the villagers rose up and demanded freedom of expression and the release of the writer.

ALLISON: You end the book by describing what the organization PEN International is. Can young people get involved in it?

JENNIFER: PEN International is a terrific and important organization, founded in 1921 by a group of writers including George Bernard Shaw and E.M. Forster. PEN stands for Poets and Playwrights, Essayists and Editors, and Novelists and it works on behalf of writers in prison and in peril around the world. You don’t have to have been published to receive the support of PEN. PEN believes all of us have the right to have your voice heard (as text or speech) across languages and cultures; the right to an education; and the right to read and write.

Today, there are PEN centres in more than 100 countries–there is more than one chapter in the United States and I encourage children and teenagers to get involved with PEN. You have laws governing freedom of speech that are the envy of the world, so you can speak up freely on behalf of people around the world. Even a kid can sign a petition to protest laws that weaken freedom of speech at home or abroad and you can send a letter or a postcard to a writer in prison and reassure the writer that she is not forgotten and that the world is watching and waiting for her release.

PEN doesn’t get a lot of money or celebrity endorsements. Freedom of speech is messy. If you’re for it, sooner or later you will find yourself defending the right of someone to say something you fundamentally disagree with–and that’s where, for adults, it gets sticky. But not kids. Children and teenagers are incredibly intelligent about this; they have no problem grasping the fact that nobody should go to prison for something they wrote.

When I visit libraries and schools I like to tell kids that, back in the 1930s, a writer named H.G. Wells was the head of PEN and he tried very hard to get the world to take seriously a group of people who were burning books in a European country–because burning books is not, generally, a good thing. I mean, people rarely stop with burning books, bad as that is; I think of it as a warning sign of worse to come. And ,in this case, I wish the world had listened to Wells because the country was Germany and the book burners were the Nazis. And of course things got very, very worse.

CBC INTERVIEW:


Allisons' Book Bag Logo

April: Multicultural Books

Each month of reviews has a theme. In April, I'll review multicultural books for our local MOSAIC. Besides that theme, I'll continue to include reviews I write for our local dog club. When possible, I'll also include author interviews.


Multicultural Books
April 9: A Single Pebble by Bonnie Christensen
April 12: Parched by Melanie Crowder
April 16: Stamp Collector by Jennifer Lanthier
April 19: Flowers in the Sky by Lynn Joseph
April 23: Victor Cruz: Out of the Blue
April 26: Alex Ko: From Iowa to Broadway
April 30: Sara and the Clouds by Felicia Hashino
May 3: Travels with Charley by John Steinback

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Thirty days. Minimum average of 1666 words per day. A total of 50,000 words. I am a NaNo Winner for two years in a row and my novel in its second version.

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