Relevant Reading

I know. You’re bored and you want to read something thought-provoking, right? No? Too bad. Here’s a short round-up of some relevant links from the last few months:

What’s the Story? Issues of Diversity and Children’s Publishing in the U.K.
“While it is important for children from BME backgrounds to see children like themselves in the books that they read, it is equally important for young people from other backgrounds to read about children who are different from themselves, and not just in issue-based books which focus on race or difference. Rudine Sims Bishop articulated the influential theory of books acting as both mirrors and windows in her influential essay, “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors.” She writes, “When there are enough books available that can act as both mirrors and windows for all our children, they will see that we can celebrate both our differences and our similarities, because together they are what make us all human” (Sims Bishop)…”

Industry Q&A with publisher Donna Bray
“Sadly, I simply do not get many submissions from writers of diverse backgrounds. There are probably many reasons for this – the publishing establishment (editors and agents) is largely white (and what might be called “elite” – upper-middle and upper-class; the lack of class and economic diversity is a whole other problem in this industry, but I digress…). Diverse writers may have less access or exposure to the publishing process…”

On Privilege and (a Lack of) Diversity on My Bookshelves
It is important to learn about and talk about the wider systemic, institutional problems with racism in publishing and society in general. But I cannot be an ally without examining how my own personal choices are reinforcing the oppression I profess to oppose, and then changing those behaviors…

And, of course, this is always worth a rewatch:
Chimamanda Adichie: The danger of a single story
“And when I began to write…I wrote exactly the kinds of stories I was reading. All my characters were white and blue-eyed. They played in the snow. They ate apples. And they talked a lot about the weather, how lovely it was that the sun had come out. Now, this despite the fact that I lived in Nigeria. I had never been outside Nigeria. We didn’t have snow. We ate mangoes. And we never talked about the weather, because there was no need to….

What this demonstrates, I think, is how impressionable and vulnerable we are in the face of a story, particularly as children. Because all I had read were books in which characters were foreign, I had become convinced that books, by their very nature, had to have foreigners in them, and had to be about things with which I could not personally identify…”

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Review: The Lost Girl

the lost girlTitle:  The Lost Girl
Author: Sangu Mandanna
Genres: Science Fiction, Dystopian
Pages: 432
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Review copy: the lovely library
Availability: August 28, 2012

Summary: Eva’s life is not her own. She is a creation, an abomination—an echo. She was made by the Weavers as a copy of someone else, expected to replace a girl named Amarra, her “other,” if she ever died. Eva spends every day studying that girl from far away, learning what Amarra does, what she eats, what it’s like to kiss her boyfriend, Ray. So when Amarra is killed in a car crash, Eva should be ready.

But sixteen years of studying never prepared her for this. Now she must abandon everything and everyone she’s ever known—the guardians who raised her, the boy she’s forbidden to love—to move to India and convince the world that Amarra is still alive. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: I went into this a little wary since science-fiction-dystopian isn’t really my thing, but — wow. This is one of those books that you just have to read all in one sitting.

The Lost Girl starts out slow, letting the reader really get to know not only Eva, the echo of her counterpart Amarra in India, but also her patchwork family made up of her adopted mother figure, guardians, teachers, and friends. The narrative voice of Eva is distinct and descriptive. Through her perspective, the other characters gain dimension and life. When Eva is finally torn away from her precious family so that she can fulfill her roll as an echo, the pain she experiences feels genuine. And when she meets her new family, they are just as fully realized as her old one.

The setting of The Lost Girl is both its strength and weakness. The story is set in what feels very much like our world, with the exception of the existence of Weavers and echoes. Weavers who can create life from scratch sounds like something that belongs in the future with all of the accompanying science innovations. Instead, the Weavers and their methods are shrouded in mystery, which renders the story’s premise a tad unbelievable.

At the same time, the setting fits with the tone of the book — the narrow perspective and voice of Eva, a teenage girl who knows little about the outside world. It also renders Eva’s experiences in both England and India all the more real. Her stay in Bangalore is rich in details about the humid weather and ashoka trees.

The plot leaves quite a few issues unresolved, but that keeps alive the hope for a sequel. The Lost Girl is a beautiful emotional roller coaster that explores death, identity, and love of all kinds. (And the references to Frankenstein are spot-on, so if you enjoyed Mary Shelley’s classic novel, then you’ll want to read this.)

Recommendation: Buy it now! And get some hot chocolate ready to comfort you.

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Mini-review: Breadcrumbs

breadcrumbs

 

Title:  Breadcrumbs
Author: Anne Ursu
Genres: fantasy, contemporary
Pages: 312
Publisher: Walden Pond Press
Review copy: the library
Availability: September 27, 2011

 

 

 

Summary: Once upon a time, Hazel and Jack were best friends. They had been best friends since they were six, spending hot Minneapolis summers and cold Minneapolis winters together, dreaming of Hogwarts and Oz, superheroes and baseball. And then, one day, it was over. Jack just stopped talking to Hazel. And while her mom tried to tell her that this sometimes happens to boys and girls at this age, Hazel had read enough stories to know that it’s never that simple. Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” Breadcrumbs is a story of the struggle to hold on, and the things we leave behind. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: Hazel, adopted from India as a baby, has a hard enough time feeling like she fits in. When her best friend Jack becomes cold and distant, and then disappears, Hazel becomes determined to get her friend back and thaw his frozen heart. To get back her friend, Hazel must navigate a frozen landscape populated with fairy tale characters and plots. At the same time, she learns to deal with the trials of her everyday life — growing up, her parent’s divorce, and school.

Breadcrumbs combines two of my favorite things — friendship and fairy tales — to create a modern day version of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen.” The language and atmosphere of the book makes it the perfect book to read while curled up with a cup of hot chocolate on a frosty winter day. This middle grade book has something for people of every age group.

Recommendation: Buy it now! This book is great for anyone who loves fairy tales and a good story.

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New Releases

Happy early birthday to Fake ID, which will be released on January 21st!
fake id

Title: Fake ID
Author:  Lamar Giles
Genres: contemporary
Pages: 320
Publisher: HarperCollins
Availability: January 21, 2014

Nick Pearson is hiding in plain sight…

My name isn’t really Nick Pearson. I shouldn’t tell you where I’m from or why my family moved to Stepton, Virginia. I shouldn’t tell you who I really am, or my hair, eye, and skin color.

And I definitely shouldn’t tell you about my friend Eli Cruz and the major conspiracy he was about to uncover when he died—right after I moved to town. About how I had to choose between solving his murder with his hot sister, Reya, and “staying low-key” like the Program has taught me. About how moving to Stepon changed my life forever. But I’m going to.
[Image and summary via Goodreads]

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Review: Chasing Shadows

chasingTitle: Chasing Shadows
Author: Swati Avasthi
Genres: contemporary
Pages: 320
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Review copy: the library
Availability: September 24, 2013

Summary: Before: Corey, Holly, and Savitri are one unit—fast, strong, inseparable. Together they turn Chicago concrete and asphalt into a freerunner’s jungle gym, ricocheting off walls, scaling buildings, leaping from rooftops to rooftop. But acting like a superhero doesn’t make you bulletproof…

After: Holly and Savitri are coming unglued. Holly says she’s chasing Corey’s killer, chasing revenge. Savitri fears Holly’s just running wild—and leaving her behind. Friends should stand by each other in times of crisis. But can you hold on too tight? Too long?

In this intense novel, Swati Avasthi creates a gripping portrait of two girls teetering on the edge of grief and insanity. Two girls who will find out just how many ways there are to lose a friend…and how many ways to be lost. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: I can’t say often enough how much I enjoy friendship stories. That being said, Chasing Shadows was a completely different creature than I am used to. Reading Holly and Savitri’s story of friendship, loss and grief was definitely a different experience.

Holly and Corey are twins; Savitri and Corey are dating. The three are a close trio of friends who face risk headlong by freerunning all over the city, off high buildings and through alleyways. When Corey is killed, Holly and Savitri’s friendship is put to the test as Holly seeks closure and vengeance, while Savitri tries to decide her future college path. Both grieve in their own ways, as shown by the two unique perspectives in Chasing Shadows.

Both girls’ grief is affected by more than Corey’s death. Holly’s grief begins to spiral into insanity as her reality begins to blend with the Leopardess comics she loves to read. Savitri’s grief and outlook on life is influenced by her cultural background and the story behind the name Savitri. The blending of influences is illustrated through comic pages interspersed throughout the narrative. While this approach to storytelling felt fresh and different, it also felt at odds with the flow of the story. That, combined with the stylized writing meant to depict Holly’s gradual breakdown, made immersion in the story difficult.

Chasing Shadow‘s innovative approach to storytelling is its main draw and also, at times, its weakness. This is a great book for anyone who enjoys psychological stories, or just wants to read about freerunning.

Recommendation: Borrow it someday.

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Interview: Ellen Oh

Recently, I had the wonderful opportunity to ask Ellen Oh a few questions about her books Prophecy and its sequel Warrior. Prophecy is a fantastic Korean-inspired fantasy with an awesome female heroine (read the review here!). Warrior will be released on December 31st, 2013.

prophecy warrior

What inspired you to write a Korean style fantasy?

It started with Genghis Khan. Back in the year 2000, Genghis Khan was named Man of the Millennium by Time magazine. I remember buying that issue and reading all about him and thinking how cool it was that an Asian man was considered the most influential man of the millennium. So I went and bought a bunch of biographies on Genghis and I just fell in love with all the Asian history I learned. It made me crave more information. But it was actually really hard to find a lot of books on ancient Korea. And there was hardly any fiction novels at all other than Linda Sue Park’s classic novel A Single Shard. This is really the reason I began writing again (I hadn’t written creatively since college.) I just felt that all these amazing historical facts would make for a great novel.

How did you go about researching for Prophecy and Warrior?

The great thing about being a faculty member of a university is that you have all the university’s library services at your disposal. I’ve pretty much researched everything I could get my hands on about Asian mythology, shamanism, Korean legends, even architecture and pottery. It’s fascinating stuff. I used a lot of legends and myths of Korea. One of the most famous legend is the story of the Rock of the Falling Flowers. It is a cliff in the old Paekche kingdom where 3,000 court ladies leapt to their deaths when faced with the invading Tang and Shilla army. Their colorful hanboks made them look like falling flowers – hence the name. I also use the myth of the 8 Heavenly Maidens and then twisted it to suit my needs. Usually, the folktales have the Heavenly Maidens descending to earth and bathing in a pool and some poor woodcutter comes and steals one of their clothes. Without her clothes the heavenly maiden cannot return home and is forced to marry the woodcutter. Well I never liked that myth. As far as I’m concerned, that poor woodcutter is a stalker/peeping tom/kidnapper. So I changed that myth to make my Heavenly Maidens strong and with an important purpose in life. I think research is really my favorite part of writing the Prophecy Series and I’ve been so fortunate to have been able to do something I love and get it published by a great house like HarperTeen.

Kira is supported by her tiger spirit. Are there or will there be other chracters with animal spirits, or is she unique?

She is definitely unique. But I’ve been toying with the idea of having other characters with animal spirits. It would be a play off of the twelve animal horoscopes. I don’t know if it will make it into the series, but it is something that I’ve been working on as a side project.

A lot of YA lit has a heavy focus on romantic love, but not on familial love. What made you choose to give Kira so many brothers and cousins?

I think family is definitely an important focus of my books. Family is the support base for most people. Whether it is brothers and sisters, cousins, friends, etc. The bonds that form family are incredibly important and I feel they should always be celebrated and remembered. It was a very conscious decision on my part to have Kira come from a strong family support group. Because that is true love. I know that some people are disappointed in how light romance is in the Prophecy series, but romance was never the focus of Kira’s story.

Jindo is pretty much my favorite, so I have to ask — What type of dog does Jindo resemble? Do you have a dog?
jindo

Source: http://jindoranch.com/gallery
Jindo is a Jindo, a very special breed of dog from the Island of Jindo in South Korea. They are known for loyalty and are considered a national treasure of Korea. When I was thinking of naming Taejo’s best friend, I thought “what would I name a dog I just got from this far off island of Jindo… hey Jindo is a cool sounding name. I’ll just name him Jindo!” :o) As for me, well I had a dog growing up, a german shepherd that I loved, but my husband and oldest are dreadfully allergic to animals (not just the fur but the saliva) so it hasn’t been possible… yet.

I love the introduction of more mythical creatures in Warrior — like the Dokkaebi, Kumiho, and so on. Will there be more to follow?

Yes, definitely. The Asian mythology was one of my favorite parts of researching for this series. There are quite a few creatures that are very distinctly Asian and are very different from what we normally see in Western mythology. But I have to say that the Dokkaebi and the Kumiho were my favorite characters to write about. They were so fun!

Finally: If you had to choose, who do you think would make a better avatar in the Last Airbender/Legend of Korra series — Kira or Korra?

Oh, tough question! I do love the Korra series but I don’t think I could answer that particular question. But how about this – If both Kira and Korra lost all their magical powers, who would be the stronger fighter? And I would say Kira, because her skills have never been completely dependent on magic but her own strength and power.

ellen_145Originally from NYC, Ellen Oh is an adjunct college instructor and former entertainment lawyer with an insatiable curiosity for ancient Asian history. She also loves martial arts films, K-pop, K-dramas, cooking shows, and is a rabid fan of The Last Airbender and the Legend of Korra series. Ellen lives in Bethesda, Maryland with her husband and three daughters and has yet to satisfy her quest for a decent bagel.

 

 

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