Search

Write Minded

I write as A. L. Collins or Ailynn Collins. I love books, especially Science Fiction. I write for children. I am committed to seeing diversity in kidlit and I can't help myself when it comes to rescuing dogs.

Tag

diversity

Two New Books

It was a surprise when I opened the box that the mailman had left on the doorstep that day. I knew the books were coming, but I hadn’t known when exactly.

A while back, I was asked to contribute to a series of middle grade books. The series would be called Michael Dahl presents Screams in Space. It was a sci-fi horror series for kids aged 8 and up. I jumped at the chance to be a part of this series. I love sci-fi, but horror? I’ve never written horror. Or read it, to be honest. And these are for kids?

Ideas began to flow quickly, and I pitched a few to Abby, the editor in charge of the project. She helped me figure out which ones would work and Michael had a say in that too. I really enjoyed working with Abby. She was enthusiastic and encouraging. And she gave great revision notes too.

So, here they are — the two books in the series written by me: Haunted Planet and Alien Lockdown. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I loved writing them. They’re published by Capstone, (Stone Arch Books)¬†and you can find them in your library (or you can ask you librarian to order them ūüôā ). These books also come in a special interactive ebook version that Capstone calls 4D. There’s even an interview with the author (that’s me :)) online. What I’m most proud of is that the main characters in these books look a bit like me when I was a kid, in that they’re multiracial. This is what I’m most passionate about when writing for kids, that every child gets to see themselves reflected in a book. Or two.

Here’s what they’re about:

Haunted Planet

After years of traveling through space, a crew of humans has finally found an uninhabited world to colonize. Almost twelve-year-old twins Evie and Emery Linn decide to sneak out and explore their new home. But on the surface, Evie starts noticing troubling signs. Plants curl tightly around her finger, as if they were alive. Strange tracks lead off into a dark cavern. Evie can’t help but wonder–are they truly alone on this planet?

Haunted Planet

Alien Lockdown

Yin Nova is excited to go on a field trip to the third International Space Station Museum. Her class will see the newest exhibit-the first alien plant ever discovered. But when they arrive, something is very, very wrong. The station is on lockdown. Eerie growls echo through the corridors. There’s no sign of the crew. When Yin decides to investigate, can she and her friends survive long enough to discover what’s on the loose?

Alien Lockdown

I love the cover art, and all the illustrations, beautifully created by Juan Calle. They really add to the ‘scariness’ of the book. But honestly, they’re more mystery thriller than real horror. They’re for kids, after all. And when it comes to horror, I’m probably the biggest hide-under-the-cover-and-close-my-eyes kind of reader.

I have a third book, coming out soon, in this series. That one is called Vampire Invasion. I based the vampires on an actual creature on Earth. No spoilers — you’ll have to wait and see what it is when it comes out sometime this year. I’m always fascinated by what strange creatures lurk in the corners of our world. Fact is so often stranger than fiction. That’s what makes this so much fun. The other books in the series, written by other writers, look just as much fun to read. I think I’ll make a request to my local library to stock up on those too.

Featured post

Reviews, a Book Party, Great Advice, and a Realization

I am new to the world of reviews. When I began this writing journey,¬† I knew that what I write might just get out there in the world someday. I know¬† (maybe only in the back of my mind) that other people will read them. Some will like my stories, others will not. I’m okay with that. I’ve put down books that others have read over and over again. I’ve loved books that others have not.

That’s okay.

I just never expected the stomach twisting feelings of actually reading what others think of my stories, whether the reviews are lukewarm or great. Still, this is a part of the journey, isn’t it?

Because you see, I wrote a set of 6 books called Redworld. They’re hi-lo books, (high interest-low readability stories for reluctant readers reading below their grade level), and they would appeal to kids 9 and up. Each of these books is in hardcover, available in your local libraries now. (Support libraries!)

 

And as of February 1, 2018, the first four books will be released as one paperback called, Redworld: Year One. The cover is gorgeous because the illustrator, who did all the beautiful artwork in the library versions is Tomislav Tikulin, a talented sci-fi, horror and fantasy illustrator.

And on February 2, we’ll be having a BOOK PARTY for Redworld: Year One at Brick and Mortar Books in Redmond, WA. 6 pm. Come if you can. There might be cake!

brick and mortar books

Here’s a bit about Redworld — Belle Song, the main character, is 12 when we start book 1, Homeworld, and 14 by the time we get to book 6, Outcry. She is biracial, and human (something we can’t just assume in this future). Her parents have dragged her away from her friends and regular life on Earth, to live on the red planet, which despite having been terraformed over the last 200 years, isn’t all that great a place to live. It’s still wild, and unpredictable, especially on the west side where the farmers live. These 6 books follow Belle on her adventures, as she makes new friends and gets into more trouble than she can handle.

And yes, Belle is a troublemaker. She wants to be good, but she just can’t help herself. The pull of curiosity and the need to prove herself are just too hard to resist. She reminds me of someone I know all too well. ūüôā

In past blogposts, I’ve had kids write their thoughts on each book, and they’ve been so generous and enthusiastic about Redworld.¬†Now, with permission from the publishers, Capstone, I get to show you the reviews from the adult world.

From the December 2017 issue of VOYA magazine:

These easy-to-read novels contain both scientific facts about Mars‚ÄĒits climate, calendar, etc.‚ÄĒand science-fictional possibilities, such as programmable house windows and personal androids. Dramatic pictures‚ÄĒthe friends surrounded by fierce cave lizards and diverse faces aglow at baby Thea‚Äôs party‚ÄĒadd appeal. Middle school students will identify with the conflicts in Belle‚Äôs journal entries and relish the harrowing adventures in each book. A glossary, a list of Mars terms, and discussion questions encourage classroom use, and the theme of understanding between diverse cultures is both timely and relevant.

From the Jan/Feb issue of Foreword Reviews:

Inventive and highly entertaining, A. L. Collins’s Redworld is set in a future where Mars has been colonized and serves as home to several alien races, including humans. Clever explanations for how the planet was made livable, and how its inhabitants create and use energy to sustain it, build a believable setting reminiscent of the old west.

The Martian setting is enticing, especially as explored by naturally curious Belle. An android helper and aliens add interesting elements.

Redworld is fun, unique, and well plotted, with interesting characters and dangerous adventures that make it difficult to put down. Subtle lessons about creating a sustainable environment and learning to see past superficial differences heighten its appeal.

KIRKUS REVIEW
 On the surface, Collins crafts a Martian action-adventure story, complete with water raiders, hybrid animals, and trips to the bustling capital city. Underlying themes of racial acceptance and environmental impact are inescapably heavy-handed, although doled out with restraint, mostly through Belle’s insistence that Lucas come to accept Ta’al even though the Sulux and Nabians are prejudiced against each other. Given the entertaining third-person narration, Belle’s interspersed journal entries seem unnecessary, but Tikulin’s illustrations offer rich ambiance and work beautifully with the graphic design. An opening gallery brings the Song family and their friends to life, and each part of Belle’s journey is prefaced with superb illustrations of exploits to come.
A commendable effort that embeds racial tension, geopolitics, and environmental issues in an action-packed Martian adventure. (glossary) (Science fiction. 11-14)

Family Fun Magazine will also have a lovely blurb about Redworld in their March issue.

So there they are – a few of them, for now.

WP_20160717_18_51_22_ProTHEN, with the perfect timing of a well-plotted story, I went back to Hamline University for an MFAC Alumni weekend last week. There, a very wise professor and Newberry winner, Kelly Barnhill, said these inspiring words at her workshop to the MFAC alum:

“When we write books, we don’t get to control how our readers relate to our books.”

“As writers, we are trying to create something out of nothing. For kids.”

And quoting Kerouac, she added “It’s important to tell yourself that you’re a genius every day. It matters because the story exists, and you did it.”

That’s the point really, isn’t it? I did the work. The books are out there. It’s done. I will let them go, take the journey that all books must. (Oh, how I love Hamline and her professors!)

But more importantly, and for me personally, my hope is that the stories will find a kid who dreams about the future the way I did at that age, a kid who needs the momentary escape, a kid who deserves to see herself as a heroine in a grand adventure.

Because that is the reason I write.

WP_20160525_21_17_07_Pro (2)For kids like her.

Featured post

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!

 

 

 

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.

 

An American Superhero…who’s Chinese.

I recently finished reading and re-reading a superhero comic (really, a graphic novel, because it was nice and long). When I was done, I can’t tell you how excited I was.

I grew up reading comics, especially because I was told not to. Comics, in the olden days, were considered¬†unacceptable reading material. They were written in all CAPS, had half sentences (gasp!), and contained unacceptable language (I don’t remember any). So, of course, whenever I went over to my cousins’ houses, I would raid their enormous collection and read, and read, and read. When I had my own kids, I encouraged them to read comics. So guess what they did? They didn’t read comics. Sigh. This was one time I wish I had gone the ‘reverse psychology’ way. What mom was enthusiastic about couldn’t ever be cool enough for my three girls.

But I’m going to be sending each of them a copy of The Shadow Hero by Gene Yang and Sonny Liew. shadow hero

Why, mom? We’re all adults now.

Well, girls, because this is the first time I’ve read a superhero comic where the hero is Chinese, and he isn’t living in China, or anywhere in Asia. He’s American, and he’s Chinese. I want to squeal in excitement. Think of how that will change the way Asian American kids see themselves, see the possibilities. If you don’t read it, keep it for your kids. This is a momentous occasion. This may sprout more Asian American heroes. And you can then say you own one of the very first books that paved the way.

When I was growing up, there was a TV show called The Greatest American Hero. GAHHe wore a red suit with a giant symbol on his chest. We used to call him the ‘hong zhong’ man, because the symbol looked like the Chinese word for ‘middle’. (Funny that I think of that now, because it’s also the first word for ‘China’ – the Middle Kingdom).2014-02-04-EricXLiEastChinaSea¬†The ‘hong zhong’ man¬†was the closest I had, growing up, to a superhero with a albeit fake connection to who I was. Of course, he was as white as could be. Still, it was an amusing series.

I digress.

Reading The Shadow Hero, I laughed at the overenthusiastic mom who literally pushes her son into situations, to try to turn him into a superhero. I felt her frustration with her lot in life, with having to serve a white family that barely saw her, with the feeling that her life might amount to nothing. That’s why she wanted this greatness for her son. Her ambition for her son was impossible, but oh so typical of what we seem to call the ‘tiger mom’, (maybe every mom?)¬† Her non-existent relationship with her husband who loved her anyway, tugged at my heartstrings. I appreciated the main character, Hank’s loyalty to his family. He was a good son, and a good man. He worked hard, looked up to his dad, and funnily enough, obeyed his mom, even when she made him wear a ridiculous looking superhero suit.¬†Their plight as a struggling family in the 1940’s reflected the same path many families walked,¬†and¬†gave me a glimpse of the Chinese family’s life¬†in our country in¬†those days.

And the story is good too! As with all superheroes who are starting out, there are the failures, the funny mishaps, the mentor/trainer, and of course, the girl. As¬†Hank grows through the story to eventually become the Green Turtle, there are lots of insights into the world of the 40’s in Chinatown. Also, Hank¬†doesn’t really have supernatural powers (hope that’s not a spoiler). He¬†is granted a wish (okay, so maybe there’s a little bit of the supernatural here) but the rest of his adventures are based on his determination, his good heart and his training. And can I say, it’s great to see that even a¬†young Chinese man can be portrayed as muscular and buff. And attractive! How sad is it that these characteristics are rarely¬†bestowed on the Asian character¬†or actor today?

At the end of the novel, there’s a wonderful piece of history added on. The creators explain the origin of The Green Turtle, how as a comic book published back in the day,¬†readers never actually saw this¬†superhero completely.¬†In order to get more readers¬†to accept this hero, he never showed his face. He never¬†showed the reading world back then¬†that he was Asian.

So, girls, I hope you can see why I’m sending you your own copy of this graphic novel. First and foremost, it’s a fun read. Then, I hope you’ll appreciate its significance. Even dad is reading it, and that’s a miracle!

Renegades of Diversity

My lovely Hamline MFAC classmates have started a website called Renegades of Diversity. In it, we will be reviewing children’s books that are diverse, and we mean diverse in every sense of the word. You should check out the reviews on the site.

Every Monday, one of us will post a review of a diverse book we’ve read recently. I’m excited because in my pledge to read more diversely, I have come across a lot of great books. The one I post here below is also posted on Renegades of Diversity. I loved The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, for all the reasons I wrote about in the review. Mostly I love that it is a story of an identity struggle, where the protagonist is biracial and is torn by both worlds, yet¬† trying to fit into both.

Here’s my review:

The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi W Durrow (2011)

I was pulled in by this story right away. It is told from four different points of view, and is at the same time tragic and optimistic. The motif of birds, of falling versus soaring, runs through the entire story. I was most drawn to the identity struggle of the young biracial protagonist.

Preteen Rachel Morse is half Danish, half African American, growing up in the 1980’s. Her parents met and married in Europe. Tragedy followed the family, and the marriage eventually broke up, leaving the mom, Nella to raise her three young children in Chicago, with her alcoholic, white boyfriend. The way her biracial family is treated, both shocks and saddens Nella, and this leads to the tragedy that forms the basis of the whole story.

Rachel is sent to live with her dad‚Äôs mother in Portland, OR. Before this time, she barely thought about the fact that her dark hair, brown skin and blue eyes created an unusual picture. But in this new life, she is seen as strange, and subjected to many questions about her racial makeup. Through living with Grandma, her aunt and her aunt‚Äôs boyfriend, Rachel learns what it means to be African American. In school, she struggles with being both black and white, faces taunts and bullying. At first she‚Äôs reluctant to let go of her Danish-ness, but over time, she begins to identify as being black. Every character she comes to know in this new world, shows her a different side of what it means to be a part of her dad‚Äôs family and culture. Even down to the music ‚Äď Rachel loves jazz, and she gets introduced to the blues, which she loves too. In the same way, she grapples with learning to embrace all sides of her identity. Hers is the journey of working out how to accept being both black and white.

Through the eyes of the other point of view characters, we learn the whole story of how Rachel came to live with Grandma. We discover the secret Rachel is keeping from the world, and the hurt she is holding onto inside. These burdens are part of what keep Rachel from accepting her identity, from embracing both sides of her makeup.

The tragedies faced by Rachel and her family are heart-wrenching. Yet, they carry on. This book was an emotional roller coaster for me, but I couldn’t put it down. What I loved most were the characters that this writer created. They made me love them, root for them, and cry out loud for their struggles. Each one was genuine and their struggles rang all too true in this day and age.

Seriously, read this book.

 

Change is Our Evolution

Do you watch the TV series Extant? I do. I watch most any sci-fi on TV. Plus Halle Berry stars in it. So, I’m a fan.

Extant_TV_Series-708050912-large

Without giving away too much, Halle Berry’s character, Molly Woods is an astronaut who ends up giving birth to a hybrid baby — half alien and half human. This hybrid runs off and impregnates more human women, creating more hybrids. These aliens can read minds and control humans with their bright yellow eyes. They can make us do what they want.

Molly discovers that the reason they’re here on Earth.Their planet is dead and they need a new place to live. As they evolve, they learn not to kill people (that’s nice) and seek to live peacefully with us. When the government guy who wants to kill all the aliens with a virus asks Molly what the aliens really want, she says, “To coexist.” What do you think the government guy did? (Spoilers – he kills them).

I recently wrote a story that implies (kind of like Extant) that in order for humanity to survive, we need to evolve. (And not necessarily in the biological sense of the word). We need to let go of the status quo and accept change.

But change is scary. Hellishly scary. People will fight change with their lives. And their words.

Lately, I’ve been involved (and also watched on the sidelines) in a conversation about privilege and how it feels to be on the other end of it. Here’s what I hear –

  • Political correctness is tiring. It takes too much effort. My quick¬†reply is this picture. Thank you, Mr. Gaiman —Neil gaiman quote
A long time ago, a professor in law school introduced the Law of Torts using the following¬†analogy. He said, and I paraphrase because it was a long, long time ago, that when I walk down the street, I¬†have the right to¬†swing my arms as high as I want, but once my hands hit the nose of the person walking¬†across¬†from¬†me, that’s where my right ends. This may not be the¬†most accurate memory of his¬†talk but the picture stayed with me.
This is how I see freedom. Freedom¬†must be tempered with compassion (or¬†respect or¬†consideration, whichever word works best).¬†As a human, I don’t live in¬†the world all by myself, so to be human¬†is to consider the person beside me.¬†My personal freedom ends when I stop caring about my fellow human. Being ‘politically correct’ has become a nasty phrase. I like what Neil Gaiman says, that it’s about treating others with respect. And yes it takes effort, but if we think about it, we do it every day anyway, to people we care about. Now we just need to extend it a little farther. It’s not as hard as it sounds. And it’s worth the energy spent.
To me, that’s what being human is. So why are there so many non-humans occupying our planet?
  • Next, I came across this –This is the title of an actual book – ‚ÄúEnd of Discussion: How the Left‚Äôs Outrage Industry Shuts Down Debate, Manipulates Voters, and Makes America Less Free (and Fun).‚ÄĚ The authors are Mary Katharine Ham and Guy Benson. You can read a discussion of their take on free speech in this article.¬†Yes, because freedom is about you having fun. That’s intelligent. Won’t be reading this book.
  • And this article, which made me think. The real reason Americans fight about identity politics¬†

    I quote from the article — ¬†“Law professor Nancy Leong studies what she calls “identity capitalism” ‚ÄĒ the ways in which particular identities like one’s race, gender, or sexual orientation have traditionally constituted positive or negative social “capital,” and how the value of that capital is changing. She believes much of the backlash against so-called identity politics is really about a sense that the status quo is under attack, and fear that something worse might replace it.

    She explained to me that it’s really easy for people from dominant groups to assume that the status quo isn’t biased, because they’ve never had to confront that bias themselves. And so when they see that an existing system is being changed to include minority groups or accommodate other interests, there’s a tendency to assume that the natural order of things is being disrupted in some illegitimate way.”

    And that creates fear.

So back to my story and Extant – Okay, barring the fact that we really don’t want to be invaded by a superior alien species, the message underneath still stands. It’s scary to let go of the status quo, to let others rise and share the space that’s been held for so long by one group. But just because one group rises, doesn’t mean the other must step down. This isn’t a pyramid. If anything, it’s a plateau. There’s plenty of space for us all.

And here’s the application of this in my context¬†— Putting someone else down doesn’t raise¬†another up. It just causes conflict. And these beliefs we carry as adults bring nothing but misery to our children who then go on to face the horror of bullying or become bullies themselves. This is why¬†I write for children. I want to be a part of the movement that shows every child that they are¬†special, important, valued. We¬†are all¬†equal, accepted,¬†loved, and deserve to be heard. There is room here for everyone. Look!¬†It says so in all our books.¬†(that’s the dream).

Changing the status quo is our evolution, at this moment in time. It can only make our species better, smarter, more peaceful. Yes, the alien storyline is a limited analogy, but I choose to see this message. It’s why I love sci-fi.

What a book should do

This week, I started looking up books for a topic I’m researching and I came across this book. It’s called Part Asian 100% Hapa by Kip Fulbeck. I turned to the¬†first page¬†and found myself sitting down to read through the entire book.

10_kip-fulbeck

What the writer wrote in the introduction¬†could have been about me. I was¬†sucked in as soon as I read the first line — “You don’t look Chinese.” Further down on the page, he says, “What are you? I answer the question every day of my life.”

Hey! Me too. (well, I used to).

I’ve blogged about this before —¬†that growing up, I¬†was asked this question¬†a lot. “What are you?” To the Chinese, I wasn’t Chinese enough. To the English, I definitely wasn’t one of them. To others, I was a curiosity. But I am, really, both – although the English side probably has some Irish and some other European additions.

After all this time, though, I’ve grown to be okay with the question, mostly. I understand now that people are curious. I get curious about others too. In fact I recently asked a friend of mine that question, just maybe not quite that bluntly. I hope¬†he was okay with it. I think I ask the question to find common ground with others, to find a point of connection. To know that I’m not the only mixed race person on the scene.

I understand that the older I get, the more I look like my mom and she’s Chinese. In fact over the years, it just became easier to allow others to assume I am Chinese (or some version of ‘Asian’). Except for my name – that’s the most English thing about me (and yes, it’s mine, not my husband’s. He’s Chinese. You’d be surprised how often I get asked if I’m married to a white man).

But as an aside, I also feel compelled to say, not Chinese from China. From South East Asia. Today, I read an article that¬†mentions how Asia is far too big a continent to lump us all together in the all encompassing word “Asian”. Specifically, the article in¬†Education Week said this —

“The diversity of nearly 50 ethnic subgroups speaking more than 300 languages cannot be accurately captured in the use of the broad and single panethnic label “Asian.”¬†”

Precisely.

Yay, to Peter T Keo (the article’s writer) for saying so.

So please don’t feel like you have to¬†tell me you’ve been to China. While interesting as a general topic of conversation, it doesn’t connect me to you. I’ve never been.

But, what is new to me,¬†is the word “Hapa”. I’d never heard it before. It’s kind of nice to know there’s a word that describes what I am. I think it’s a word borrowed from Pacific Islanders, so thank you for sharing it. It’s certainly better than some of the names I’ve been called in the past.

This book, Part Asian 100%¬†Hapa,¬†is a photographic book. The writer brought together a lot of Hapa people and photographed them, portrait style. Next to their pictures, each person wrote a short note answering the question “What are you?” It was a lovely read. The people were¬†from every age and walk of life, and every one was beautiful. ¬†It made me feel happy, and reminded me that I¬†wasn’t alone in the world.

And that’s what a book should do.

Committing to Diversity

Diversity in children’s literature is vital. It’s necessary. It’s long¬†overdue. It should¬†be there¬†in adult literature and all media too. (Don’t get me started on casting issues in Hollywood). But it is most important when the consumers are children. And I’m glad¬†we’re doing something¬†about it.

This topic of diversity in kidlit has been growing for many years. Brave people and organizations have been fighting to make their voices heard, so that all children will be represented in the books they read. Maybe it’s because I attend a school that is dedicated to diversity that it feels as if the conversation is gaining traction. But everyday, I am seeing posts on social media¬†and hearing that it’s being discussed at conferences,¬†ones¬†that could affect the future of books. Just yesterday, in my email inbox, there was a newsletter from the SCBWI. The first article, listed under Hot Topic, was written by Lin Oliver, the Executive Director of SCBWI. The title was “Diversity: What Can We Do About It?”¬†It was encouraging to read.

As a student at Hamline’s MFAC (Writing for Children and Young Adults) program, I joined with others to commit to reading and writing diverse literature for children. I desperately¬†want children to be able to see themselves in books. It makes me so happy to hear a child say, “Hey, he looks like me!” or “We do that at home too.”¬†when I read a book aloud. (I teach tiny ones, and medium sized ones). During this last Hamline residency in July, our MFAC Pride group asked us to commit to buying, reading, and reviewing or blogging about diverse books for kids — at least 12 in the next year.

I’m really excited to do this. And by putting it out here, I’m holding myself accountable. I’ve already¬†bought several books¬†by diverse writers, and I can’t wait to start reading. Of course, some of these books I’ll have to read in between completing my MFAC homework (we call them packets). Some books are already on our required reading list, (Monster by Walter Dean Myers is my favorite so far)¬†so I’ll get to ‘kill two birds’ as they say. (The faculty¬†at Hamline is revising the required reading list to include more diverse books too. Yay!).¬†Mostly, I’ll be able to escape into the wonderful worlds created by people I have only recently been introduced to.

Not that¬†I haven’t¬†read books by diverse authors or books with diverse characters up till now.¬†The ones I’ve read¬†recently¬†include:

  • Crossover by Kwame Alexander
  • The Firekeeper’s Son, and A Single Shard, both by Linda Sue Park
  • The Living by Matt De La Pena
  • The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M Danforth
  • Legend (The Trilogy)¬†by Marie Lu
  • Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai
  • Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan
  • American Born Chinese, and Boxers and Saints, all by Gene Luen Yang
  • This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki
  • Kindred by Octavia E. Butler
  • Talon by Julie Kagawa

See, it’s not that hard to find 12, or 13. I like that,¬†if¬†I¬†deliberately look for diverse books, I¬†can find¬†a good number of great ones, from picture books to young adult books. Imagine a world where diverse books are everywhere, and we wouldn’t have to go looking for them. That makes me smile.

I found several great resources too – We Need Diverse Books, Bookriot, and¬†LibraryThing are perfect starting platforms for finding diverse books to read. And¬†from the new and emerging¬†writers I’ve met along the way in my writing journey, I know a lot more wonderful, relevant books¬†are coming.¬†This is an¬†exciting time.

More and more,¬†we are becoming aware of this need for books that reflect all kinds of children in all kinds of families, doing things all of us can identify with. And¬†books with diverse characters don’t have to have characters doing things that are stereotypical of their culture. Also, there’s an interesting emergence of subcultures brought about¬†by kids who are growing up in a¬†different country from where their parents were raised. And there are¬†the biracial and multiracial kids too. How great would it be to see books about their journeys?

So,¬†as we continue the discussion, here’s my little¬†wishlist for readers and writers of children’s books¬†—

  • Diversity is not a trend, like vampires and angels once were. It is the truth about our world. Don’t treat it like a trend.
  • Don’t write a diverse book for the sake of it. This shouldn’t be a band-wagon to hop onto. Write one because when you look around your own world (or dig a little deeper to discover the truth), you’ll see that the world is already diverse, and you have no choice but to reflect it.
  • Reflect¬†the diversity¬†well, consistent with reality. Do research, if you need to, and it’s always good even if you don’t.
  • Show us diverse people doing regular day to day things, but make it interesting because it’s in a book and readers need to turn the page.
  • Read diversely. Do the work to find them. They’re easier to find than you think.
  • Pass along good books to everyone you know.

Maya Angelou¬†once said,¬†“It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.”

There truly is. So let’s share it. And one day,¬†diverse¬†books will be¬†mainstream, and the world of children’s books will match the world in real¬†life.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

Kidlit For Christchurch

Together against Islamophobia

Pat McCaw

Official site for author Pat McCaw

Uma Krishnaswami

Writer, Author of Books for Young Readers

Nerdy Book Club

A community of readers

Mentors for Rent

Balanced Advice About Writing for Children and Young Adults

The Global Read Aloud

One Book to Connect the World

alicia williams sheds light on...

The Uncut Opinions of...Me!

henryherz.com

Children's & Fantasy/Sci-Fi Books

Helping Writers Become Authors

Write your best story. Change your life. Astound the world.

Children's Atheneum

I write as A. L. Collins or Ailynn Collins. I love books, especially Science Fiction. I write for children. I am committed to seeing diversity in kidlit and I can't help myself when it comes to rescuing dogs.

Renegades of Diversity - Blog

I write as A. L. Collins or Ailynn Collins. I love books, especially Science Fiction. I write for children. I am committed to seeing diversity in kidlit and I can't help myself when it comes to rescuing dogs.

Dammit, This is a Blog - Justina Ireland

I write as A. L. Collins or Ailynn Collins. I love books, especially Science Fiction. I write for children. I am committed to seeing diversity in kidlit and I can't help myself when it comes to rescuing dogs.

Official Tumblr of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks Campaign

I write as A. L. Collins or Ailynn Collins. I love books, especially Science Fiction. I write for children. I am committed to seeing diversity in kidlit and I can't help myself when it comes to rescuing dogs.

Fantasy Author's Handbook

Advice for Manufacturers of Hokum

Malinda Lo

I write as A. L. Collins or Ailynn Collins. I love books, especially Science Fiction. I write for children. I am committed to seeing diversity in kidlit and I can't help myself when it comes to rescuing dogs.

Sticky Love

I write as A. L. Collins or Ailynn Collins. I love books, especially Science Fiction. I write for children. I am committed to seeing diversity in kidlit and I can't help myself when it comes to rescuing dogs.

WRITERS HELPING WRITERS¬ģ

Home of The Bookshelf Muse

%d bloggers like this: