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T A Knox-Collins

I love books, especially Science Fiction. I write for children, am a graduate of Hamline University's MFAC program. I am committed to seeing diversity in kidlit and I can't help myself when it comes to rescuing dogs.

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children’s books

Future Food, Reading Dogs, and Library Books

Yes, that title is a little odd. Today’s post covers things that are seemingly unrelated. And yet, they are related! Read on.

We begin with another review for Homestead: A New Life on Mars (Book 1 of the Redworld Series). Keep sending them! I love getting reviews from kids, and as promised, I’m posting without edits. ūüôā

Nathan (5th grade) says of Homestead:
I liked this book even better than my comic book. I like it better because I like the characters, the setting and the alien animals. For example, the humped horse. It is the description of a camel and a horse. It can go long without water, and it is hooked on with a wagon. Except it is more Sci-fi, like hover pads and stuff like that. My favorite part in visualization for the story is when Myra told them about the useful things the mealworms can be. They can be grounded to flour, and then they can be fried and baked. Very useful. They don’t give pollution.
Thanks, Nathan! I’m glad you enjoyed that. (I love comic books too, so that was a lovely compliment). The great thing about science fiction, is that sometimes, it’s based on fact and taken to the next level with a little imagination. I did some research on the future of food, and mealworms came up as a great source of protein. People already eat it some parts of the world today. I just pictured the possibility of it becoming the most common food of the future – easy to ‘grow’ and they don’t take up a lot of space or resources. What do you think they’d taste like, especially ground up as flour and baked into a cake?

Next, Good News! Redworld will soon be available at King County Libraries here in WA. And hopefully in libraries everywhere.

KCLS Homestead

This is exciting. I love libraries. They make for great refuges when the world gets too much — why? Because they’re filled with books, of course! Also, my dog, Lady Rose and I volunteer at several libraries in King County with Reading with Rover. (RWR is a therapy dog organization. Teams go to schools, libraries, bookstores and community centers so that kids can read to dogs. Dogs are not judgmental, and they make great listeners. RWR also goes to colleges for de-stressing therapy, assisted living homes, and hospitals. It’s a great program, and we’re so proud to be a part of it. See? I told you I could fit reading dogs into the post. I can fit dogs into almost any subject.)

At the libraries, Rose and I are surrounded by kids who love to read, and librarians who are friendly and helpful. We always leave feeling happier and more relaxed at the end of a session. Here’s Rose getting ready to hear some kids read:

So, go visit your local library, and maybe you’ll get to read a book to a dog. And if you happen to find Redworld, let me know. Or better yet, get a kid to write a review!

 

 

 

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A Young Artist Tackles Hunger: A Graphic Novel

Working part time at a bookstore, I get to meet a lot of interesting people. Best of all is when kids and teens come in to the store. I love to hear about what they’re reading, what they’re interested in, and discovering their talents.

Jing Jing is 16 years old. They come into the bookstore quite often. They have a bubbly personality and is a great conversationalist. They’re also an artist. They say they practice their drawings a lot and I can believe that. When they showed me their portfolio, I was envious. Drawing people is definitely not something I can do. I can draw stick figures. What Jing Jing does is a whole different universe.

I told Jing Jing I’m working on a graphic novel called Hunger. Jing Jing was interested. They asked me what it was about, and really listened as I gave them the long synopsis. Bless that teenager!

Hunger is about a Cassia, who lives in the International District in Seattle. Her parents died in an accident when she was a toddler, so she lives with her Aunt Maggie. Maggie runs a Chinese funeral supply store, and has been hoping to make the Hungry Ghost Festival popular in the Pacific Northwest. Business was never great, but her husband’s fortune telling business kept them afloat in the lean times. Now that Harry is gone, Maggie leans on Cassia to keep the store going. Cassia has the ability to see and communicate with the spirits of the departed, particularly during the Hungry Ghost month (7th month of the Lunar Calendar). All Cassia wants is to find her parents’ ghosts, but for some reason, they’ve never visited her. Her ghost friends have been helping her search for them for years, especially Wing – a twenty-something man who died before Cassia was born.

This year, at last, as Cassia gets ready to enter her junior year in high school, news arrives from Wing that her parents have been found. In exchange for his effort, Wing begs Cassia to reach out to his family. He needs them to make him an offering, so he can be freed of his eternal wandering. Cassia may be good with ghosts, but with the living, she’s a complete introvert. To go to Wing’s family and ask them to make an offering to the husband and dad who abandoned them long before he died? That’s a lot to ask. Especially when Cassia finds out that Wing’s son is the most popular boy in her school!

With a whole cast of ghosts and living, Cassia goes on an adventure she’s never dreamed of having. She finds herself making friends with the most unusual people. She discovers how, in being biracial, she’s caught between two cultures whose beliefs about the afterlife could prevent her from ever reuniting with her parents. Most of all, she finds out that family is more than the biological connection between people.

Jing Jing’s reaction? They were excited! Bless them, again. They asked to see some of my script, and then surprised me a few days later, with sketches of some of the characters. I simply have to share them here. Aren’t they great?

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A King County organization called 4Culture very generously gave me a grant to work on HUNGER, to help me hire a graphic novel artist to do the first couple of chapters. With that, I hope to market this graphic novel soon. In return, I’ll be giving free writing workshops to kids who are interested in writing or graphic novels.

Lots of things are happening. But for today, I’m excited to introduce you to this up and coming artist. Great things will come from her someday.

Edited to add:

Jing Jing goes by the pronouns they/them. I apologize for not clarifying that before the original post.

 

Featured post

Two kids review “Redworld”

“Redworld” is a middle grade science fiction series that I wrote, published by Capstone. It’s about Belle Song and her adventures on a terraformed Mars, set 250 years in the future. I like to think of it as a Star Wars/Firefly/Star Trek universe type adventure, but where 12-year-old Belle still has to deal with the issues of being the new kid, making friends, finding her place in the world, and getting into all kinds of mischief, as her trusty android, Melody tries to keep up with her.

The first four books were released recently in library binding. All four books will be compiled into a paperback version and released to stores in February 2018.

I sent a book to some of my former students, and I asked them to tell me what they think. I promised to put their reviews on here, without edits. So, here are two of their opinions. Over the next few blog posts, I’ll post more of the kids’ opinions. If you like what they have to say, consider asking your library to stock this series.

Thank you, girls, for your reviews.

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Samantha read book 2, Raiders, Water Thieves of Mars.

“A wild, out of this world adventure, with twists and turns at every corner. Raiders: Water Thieves of Mars is an interesting example of what life is like on planet Mars. The situation on Mars reminded me of severe droughts on Earth today.¬† The fast, exciting pace is perfect for young readers who prefer action.¬† It was hard to stop reading it.¬† I can‚Äôt wait to read more of this series.”
-Samantha, 4th grader

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Helena read book 3, Tharsis City, The Wonder of Mars.

“I recommend the book Tharsis City if you like exciting, adventurous stories. One thing I love about the book Tharsis City is it has just enough pictures so I can imagine what Tharsis City is like from the beautiful descriptive writing.¬† I told lots of people about Tharsis City and they all said it sounds interesting, and someone even started reading it and liked it!¬† I read it really fast because I liked it so much, mostly because it’s so imaginative.¬† I loved Belle’s alien friends and wolf dog.¬† Another thing I liked is that her mom Zara is going to have her first baby on Mars.¬† I loved this book and I hope you will too!
-Helena, 5th grader

 

 

Featured post

Redworld is Here!

It’s been a while since I’ve written a post. It’s been two weeks since these books were released. And yes, it’s taken me this long to get around to writing about it.

I wrote a series of Science Fiction stories for Capstone publishing, called Redworld. Here’s the link to an interview on their website.

The books are aimed at kids in the Middle Grade level (8 to 12). They’re short and full of action, in the hope that reluctant readers, especially, would be interested in picking them up, and give reading a go.

Books 1 to 4 of the Redworld series came out recently in library binding. Titles are

  • Homestead
  • Raiders
  • Tharsis City
  • Legacy

Redworld is the story of 12 year old Belle Song and her family who move to a terraformed Mars, to start a new life. She and her android Melody, along with lots of other characters, get into more trouble than you think a kid could find. There are hybrid animals, several alien species, and strange android creatures. Yet, with all the tech available, there’s still an element of the old world, especially among the struggling farming community that Belle finds herself in. Yes, there are elements of Star Trek, Star Wars and Firefly in them.

The art work is beautiful and exciting.¬† The artist is Tomislav Tikulin, who has done quite a bit of scifi illustrating. He did a great job bringing Belle’s Mars adventures to life. His art makes me want to move there.

I was thrilled to hold the library bound copies in my hands when they arrived in a box two weeks ago. The paperback version, which is the compilation of all 4 stories in one book, will come out in February 2018.

I kept a set for myself and sent the rest to former students of mine (and some kids of friends). They’re around the age of the targeted readership. I asked them to read a book each and give me their honest opinions. I promised to put it on this blog, WITHOUT editing their reviews. As they come in, I’ll post them here. Yes it’s a risk, but why not?

So, here goes the first:

Angus, in 5th grade (he read Book 2) said:

“After reading “Raiders, Water Thieves of Mars” all I can say is the book was simply captivating. There are multiple elements that are very creative and new, such as all kinds of animals and human hybrid races. Another thing is there are some things that could happen in real life like various school related problems. There are a few confusing chapters but they are easily overlooked. This is irrefutably a must for just about anyone.”

Well, thank you Angus for your honest review. I’m glad you thought the story was captivating. I would love to know more about the ‘confusing chapters’, since it isn’t my aim to confuse any of my readers. I hope to do better next time.

And so the adventure continues…

We Need Biracial Books -What I Didn’t Say

There were some things left unsaid. Important things.

This week I gave a presentation on the extended critical essay I wrote that is required to complete my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. (One more semester to go). I had twenty five minutes in which to explain the one underlying message that has been a part of me ever since I can remember.

But anyone who knows me knows that 25 minutes isn’t enough time to even scratch the surface of what I want to say. Plus there were nerves and jitters, etc…

I came away feeling unfinished, like I’d left the most important part out. I haven’t been able to stop the feeling that I let myself (and possibly others) down.

So I’ll put¬†those thoughts here. Mainly so I know I’ve put these¬†ideas out into the universe and maybe it’ll make sense to someone.

I talked about why we need children’s books that feature biracial characters. Statistically speaking, biracial and multiracial people are the fastest growing population in the US. More importantly, biracial children should be given the gift of seeing themselves reflected in stories. And reflected authentically.

I talked about how some books will have the biracial child’s identity issue as the main theme, and the story is about the character working out where they belong. (The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods,¬† and Nothing But the Truth (And a Few White Lies) by Justina Chen, for example) On the other side of my story continuum, I see books that have universal themes, but seen through the eyes of the biracial child — remembering that who a character is, influences¬†how she sees and tackles¬†the world, and these universal issues. (Examples include The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi W Durrow, We Were Here by Matt de la Pena, and Living Violet by Jaime Reed)

I believe that at the heart of every biracial/multiracial person is this push pull question of ‘what am I?’ Growing up belonging to more than one race, yet most often resembling one side or neither side of the family, creates a feeling¬†of being¬†‘not quite enough’. Other people also tend to try to categorize us, sometimes telling us (and not always in words) what we are by how they think we look. (See the Twitter discussion #BiracialLooksLike)

From my experience, most white people can’t look at a biracial person and see their white side. They only see the Asian, African, Latino, Native American side. I can’t tell you the number of times people think my ‘white’ surname is from¬†my spouse. At the same time, our ‘other side’ people will see that we’re not quite all there. So the ‘where do¬†I belong’ question is always there¬†at the back of a biracial person’s mind. That is the contention I make in my paper.

But what I needed to finish saying is this, when we choose to write a biracial character into our stories, there are questions we must ask:

  1. why does he or she or they need to be biracial? What does their ‘biracialness’ bring to the story that is unique compared to a single race character? Because remember, the identity issue is always going to play a role in their life, even if it isn’t the main or even sub plot of the book.
  2. Why am I the right person to write this story? Be careful not to use a biracial character because it’s killing two birds with one stone. A mixed race (with white) character isn’t a white character who conveniently looks like a Person of Color. She isn’t any easier to write about simply because she is half white and often tends to appear culturally white¬†on the outside. In¬†her innermost circles,¬†her heritage plays a HUGE role.

A writer who isn’t biracial who wants to include a biracial character needs to understand that there are just as many, if not more, cultural (for want of a better word) issues faced by a biracial person than a single race person. She will often face all the racism, all the prejudice that comes with being a Person of Color, and still not quite fit in with either side of her heritages. This may appear, on the outside, to be less true when a character has other privileges such as wealth and education. But, it’s there.

So, the biracial character is not the ‘simple’ solution to adding diversity to a story. There isn’t a simple solution. And as I said in my presentation, our concern for bringing diversity to children’s literature¬†isn’t about peppering our fictional worlds with color.¬†It’s about authenticity.¬†¬†Sometimes, it’s about decolonizing our stories — stepping aside for the right person to tell the story (consider the OwnVoices stand). I’m not saying you can’t write a biracial character if you aren’t biracial yourself. I’m saying that if you do, tread carefully, with great respect, lots and lots of research,¬†and intentionality. (The same goes for any character different from ourselves). Consider hiring sensitivity readers for your manuscript.

But Always, it’s about understanding your characters inside and out, so that your telling of their story is authentic. Because the kids reading it will know when something smells off. They will chuck the book across the room before finishing it. Or worse, they will think there’s something wrong with themselves if they’re essentially told that what they feel deeply¬†isn’t important enough to talk about.

So there’s my soapbox. You might not like it, and that’s okay. I just needed to say it.

 

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