Today, for the first day in months,
it is warm and sunny in Brooklyn. Spring has finally sprung and it’s
high time this particular bear climbed out of her winter cave and
posted a newsletter.
I’ve spent my winter working on the sequel to The Tea Rose,
and while I can’t say my latest doorstop is done yet, I’m getting
there. I’ve achieved a workable draft of Part One, and am speeding
through Part Two, and mapping out Part Three. I hope to be
completely finished before summer arrives.
I have a wonderful distraction coming up, however – the Los
Angeles Times Book Prizes ceremony on Friday, April 22. I’m
presenting the award to the winner in the young adult fiction
category and I’m so excited, I can’t stand myself. I actually get to
get up on stage, open an envelope and say, “And the winner is…”
Here are the nominees:
Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Sammy and Juliana in
Hollywood (Cinco Puntos Press)
Melvin Burgess, Doing It (Henry Holt Books for
Michael Morpurgo, Private Peaceful (Scholastic
Adam Rapp, Under the Wolf, Under the Dog (Candlewick Press)
Meg Rosoff, How I Live Now (Wendy Lamb Books /
Random House Children’s Books)
I’ve already raved about How I Live Now and Private
Peaceful in these pages, and I’ve just begun to read Doing It. Burgess always causes quite a stir with his
books, and Doing It really had everyone a-flutter when it
first came out. I’m totally hooked already, and will soon be
devouring Sammy and Juliana and Under the Wolf – both of
which come highly recommended.
And speaking of young adult books, check out this website www.teenreads.com. It’s run by the amazing Carol Fitzgerald, the
force behind Bookreporter.com, AuthorsOnTheWeb.com, and Kidsreads.com. Teenreads highlights new YA books, features
interesting author interviews, offers reading guides and is
currently sponsoring a James Joyce essay contest for 10th, 11th and
One of the things I love about this site is that it doesn’t
endlessly debate what’s a YA book and what isn’t, but happily blurs
the line between the two by offering info on books by a diverse
roster of authors including, for example, Laurie Halse Anderson,
Joyce Carol Oates, Jodi Picoult, and Sophie Kinsella. At last a site
that recognizes that teenagers, like most of the rest of us, read
out of the box. Now…if only we could find adult book sites that
would happily recommend Philip Pullman, Meg Rosoff and M.T. Anderson
to their readers.
Those of you who’ve heard me speak – poor devils! – know that this
is my favorite soap box topic. I really do believe that if we want
to convince kids that the books written for them and about them
should matter to them, then we also need to show them that
these same stories matter to us. We need to put their concerns,
their issues, and their books first, not last. Never last.
We can do this by giving books for kids prominence in our
bookstores and in our libraries. We can also do this by asking the
editors of the newspapers and magazines we read to give more space
to news and reviews about kids’ books. But the best way to
do this, I think – is simply by reading them. Read them.
Share them. Applaud them. Criticize them. And treat them as if they
were as worthy and compelling as their adult fiction counterparts.
Because they are.
If I think back to my high school reading assignments, novels like The Scarlet Letter, Crime and Punishment, and The Grapes of Wrath come to mind – all books that examine
adult issues and situations. How can we ask children to read these books, and yet never dream of reading novels like How
I Live Now, Doing It, or Feed? How can we
tell kids that adult stories are worthy of their time and attention,
but their stories are not worthy of ours?
The stories we like define us. They embody our experiences, hopes,
fears, and dreams. Dismiss a person’s stories and you dismiss that
person. If we, as authors and parents, librarians and educators,
encourage children to enter adult territories through the vehicle of
literature, and to value what they find there, why shouldn’t we
repay the courtesy now and then by embarking upon a journey back to
the realms of childhood and adolescence?
The idea that books for and about children can only be of interest to children is absurd. And not only is it absurd, it’s
offensive. It’s like telling a reader not to bother reading Beloved unless she’s black or Dubliners unless he’s Irish. Books are not gated communities, they are open
cities where we can all come and go at will, freely sampling other
lives and times, other cultures and realities.
What better way to convince a child of
the importance of her views, the validity of her feelings and
concerns, than to say to her, "I like your stories. They’re
interesting. They’re good. And hey…can I borrow that book when
Wishing you a happy spring.