Sunday, November 17, 2013

KIMBERLEY'S BOOK BUZZ with Uma Krishnaswami

The Multi-Construction of Story  OR Are Multi-Cultural Books Dead? Maybe . . . Maybe Not!   

by  Uma Krishnaswami

Multicultural literature is by definition the literature of the other, reflecting, as Roderick McGillis puts it, “a desire for recognition on the part of people who have been either invisible or unfairly constructed or both.”

Recently, I received a letter from a young Indian American reader who had read a couple of my books. She wrote about the main character: “I cannot tell you how much I loved Dini because she sounds and thinks like me and her family looks and sounds like mine. I read a lot, so I don’t mean that I only like books where the characters are similar to me. But once in a while it is very nice.”

One can interpret such a letter as calling for culturally grounded books to serve as mirrors, reflecting readers’ images back to themselves, but that is not what I think my young reader is saying. I think she’s echoing the very same call for many stories that made Chimamanda Adichie’s TED talk so wildly popular. She’s talking about multiple constructions of identity. By 2020, when one in two students in the United States is projected to be a child of color, such diverse constructions should also be commonplace in books.

Perhaps, too, my reader’s call is for many kinds of stories. Typically, stories of immigrants in the United States have tended to focus on the journey to America. There are many wonderful stories in this category—Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai, for instance, or Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan. But other narratives are now beginning to be told, stories in which identity choices do not constitute the storyline, where cultural multiplicity is taken for granted. Books like Kathi Appelt’s middle grade novel, The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp. Or consider the YA novel Outside Beauty by Cynthia Kadohata, where the bonds of sisterhood get forged in a wildly atypical family context.

Perhaps it’s time to think of constructing stories that will function, not as mirrors reflecting who we are now or who we were yesterday, but prisms projecting who we can be in decades yet to come. 
From Kimberley Griffiths Little, one of your SPELLBINDERS:

Uma blogs on this subject frequently as well as teaching at the Vermont College of Fine Arts in their MFA program for children’s literature. She calls them *Books With Cultural Contexts*! (Click here to read Uma’s intriguing bio).Visit her website at

Below is a book list with books in all children’s lit categories with specific cultural contexts—they are only a small selection of the many, many fine books out there.
How many have you read? (And scroll down for the **giveaway** of Uma’s new MG book!)

Picture Books

Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying Hwa-Hu
The Kamishibai Man by Allen Say
From the Bellybutton of the Moon by Francisco Alarcon illustrated by Maya Cristina Gonzales
The Princess of Borscht by Leda Schubert, illustrated by Bonnie Christensen
Tiger on a Tree by Anushka Ravishankar, illustrated by Pulak Biswas

Chapter Books

Anna Hibiscus (and sequels) by Atinuke
The Year of the Dog (and sequels) by Grace Lin
The No-Dogs-Allowed Rule by Kashmira Sheth
Indian Shoes by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Middle Grade

A Suitcase of Seaweed and Other Poems by Janet Wong
Chronal Engine by Greg Leitich Smith
A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park
Looking for Bapu by Anjali Banerjee
Moccasin Thunder: American Indian Stories for Today edited by Lori Marie Carlson
Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins
The Wild Book by Margarita Engle
The Grand Plan to Fix Everything by Uma Krishnaswami
The Problem with Being Slightly Heroic by Uma Krishnaswami
Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy
Ghetto Cowboy by G. Neri
The Great Wall of Lucy Wu by Wendy ShangThe Unforgotten Coat by Frank Cottrell Boyce
Breakaway, Enchanted Runner, and The Last Snake Runner by Kimberley Griffiths Little (soon to be re-released in print and Kindle/Nook versions in a week or two so keep an eye out!)
Young Adult

Shadow Spinner by Susan Fletcher
Habibi by Naomi Shihab Nye
A Step From Heaven by An Na
Code Talker by Joseph Bruchac
Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Tantalize series
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson
Ask Me No Questions by Marina Budhos
Tyrell (and sequels) by Coe Booth
A Girl Called Problem by Katie Quirk
Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Adichie
Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie

And now for your chance to win Uma’s MG novel – set in India about Bollywood! Funny and poignant family story about friendship and magic and dreams and movie stars! Just leave a comment on our SPELLBINDER blog to win OR email Kimberley at Our random generator (or a hat!) will pick the winner in our final SPELLBINDER issue Monday, December 9th before we break for the holidays.

Kimberley Griffiths Little is the author of three magical realism novels with Scholastic, THE HEALING SPELL, CIRCLE OF SECRETS, and WHEN THE BUTTERFLIES CAME (2013). Forthcoming: THE TIME OF THE FIREFLIES (Scholastic, 2014) and her Young Adult debut, FORBIDDEN with Harpercollins (Fall 2014). When she’s not writing you can find her reading/daydreaming in her Victorian cottage and eating chocolate chip cookies with a hit of Dr. Pepper.


Sunday, November 10, 2013


When I discuss plotting with students, I provide numerous examples from movies and novels for each of the twelve steps. (For a full discussion of my plotting system see The Secret Language of Stories at Carolee Dean Books).

 I like to follow up with a discussion of plot as it relates to an entire story. Picture books work quite well for this purpose since they may be shared with students at one sitting. Many of them contain content that is appropriate for teens as well as younger students.

One fabulous example is Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy Marshal by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson. Vaunda is a New Mexico author and librarian and her book is a Coretta Scott King Award recipient.

This true story follows the life of a slave who became one of the most feared lawmen of the Wild West. The bibliography and website information at the back of the book make it easy to connect to other articles and support the common core standards with non-fiction resources. 

Here's the plot...

THE OLD WORLD: The story begins with a dramatic showdown between Bass Reeves and outlaw, Jim Webb. It then goes back in time to explore Bass’s slave days in Texas. His owner was so impressed with his shooting skills that he not only took Bass hunting and entered him in shooting competitions; he also took Bass with him to fight in the Civil War. But one night something happened that changed Bass’s life forever.

THE CALL TO ADVENTURE: Bass and his owner had a fight over a card game and Bass hit the man. Fearing for his life, he decided to run away to Indian Territory where he lived among the various tribes and learned their languages.

MENTORS, GUIDES, AND GIFTS: Judge Isaac C. Parker served as in inspiration by giving Bass a job as deputy marshal, to help bring order and justice to the Indian Territory.

THE CROSSING: Bass traveled to each of his missions with a set of fine horses, a chuck wagon, a cook, a guard, at least one posse man, and a tumbleweed wagon used to bring in the criminals.

THE NEW WORLD: One of the first challenges Bass had to face in his new position was the fact that he was illiterate. He asked someone to read the warrants to him while he memorized each name and all the charges. Sometimes he had thirty warrants at a time, and he had to keep all of that information in his memory.

I love sharing this part of the story with my students, since most of them have severe reading disabilities. It demonstrates how we can all develop strategies to overcome our deficits and short-comings.

THE PROBLEM, THE PRIZE, AND THE PLAN: One of Bass Reeves favorite methods for capturing outlaws was to use disguises. One time when he was tracking two brothers, he dressed like an outlaw, going so far as to shoot three holes in an old hat. Then he walked twenty-eight miles to their hideout so no one would see his fine horses or his wagons.

MIDPOINT CHALLENGE: When Bass arrived at the house, he showed the mother of the outlaws his hat full of bullet holes and told her a posse was after him. She invited him in and when her sons arrived, the three men agreed to become partners.

DOWNTIME: Everyone but Bass went to sleep. He stayed up and put the criminals in handcuffs. They woke up to a very rude surprise.

CHASE AND ESCAPE: Bass made the two men walk the twenty-eight miles back to the tumbleweed wagon. Their mother followed for three of those miles, yelling and screaming at Bass.

Note: Many stories, even picture books, contain repetitions of the plan, attempt response cycle. What comes next in the Bass Reeves story are several shorter vignettes of his adventures capturing various outlaws.

DEATH EXPERIENCE: Although Bass faced many ruthless outlaws, his most dangerous experience was facing a mob of ordinary citizens.  They were about to lynch a black man. Bass rode right into their midst without a word, cut the man down, and rode away with him on the back of his horse.

CLIMACTIC SHOWDOWN: The climax of a story is the test of a hero’s true character. In a story of the Wild West you might expect a shootout or a duel, but Bass’s defining moment was much more internal. He received an arrest warrant for his own son who had killed his wife in a moment of jealous rage. Bass had to decide if he was going to follow through with his duty or not. True to his character, he arrested his own son.

REWARD: When Oklahoma became a state and the Indian Territory was a thing of the past, local lawmen replaced federal marshals. Bass joined the police force in Muskogee, Oklahoma. When he died, hundreds of people attended his funeral. One man commented that Bass was, “one of the bravest men this country has ever known.”

Understanding the basic plot structure of stories can be an invaluable way to get story ideas of your own. When writers, whether amateurs or experts, see the different ways plots can unfold, they may tuck away ideas for their own adventures.

When students understand these patterns that are repeated across genres, they start to recognize them in movies and books. The secret language of the story becomes a language they may learn to speak.

Remember, for a more detailed discussion of each of these twelve steps, go to Carolee Dean Books.
For classroom resources for Bad News for Outlaws see the publisher's site at Lerner Books.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Haunted Hearts and the Making of Books by Author Kersten Hamilton

Go to View in iTunes when you get to the preview or go directly to iTunes via your eReader and search for Tyger Tyger.

Haunted Hearts and the Making of Books

Where do you find ideas for your stories?
At dawn today I saw sheep, their woolly coats thick with first frost, sleeping in the field. They woke as the sun rose, and, still frosted and not bothering to get up, began to make a breakfast of their green bed. I tucked the image away like a greedy dragon snatching up gold. 
I know I will use it in a book. 
I wish my books could be made of such beautiful bits and bobs of reality. But I know that nobody would read them if they were. Robert Frost said, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.” And it is true.
The real world is not only beautiful, it is also painful and complicated. Writers must walk through things we don’t understand, face things that haunt us, transform them and offer them to our readers as gifts. 
Here is one of the haunted corners of my heart:
When I was about ten, I befriended an abused dog. He was in bad shape, but I nursed him back to health and named him Joe. He was my best buddy. But because I couldn’t afford a license the dogcatcher showed up one day and literally dragged Joe away from me. I would have stopped him if I could, but I was too little.
Joe was a scrap of a dog that had no chance of being adopted by anyone else. The dogcatcher told me I had two weeks to get enough money to buy Joe a license or he would be put down. I worked as hard as I could, earning money any way I could think of. My family didn’t have enough money to keep food on the table. There was no one else to help me. 
I didn’t earn enough. On the day they killed Joe, I was sitting on a rooftop wishing I was strong enough to fight the world and save him. Smart enough to have thought of some way to earn the money. But I wasn’t.
That dogcatcher who exercised power with no mercy became my personal model of human evil. As a child I thought that the fight against that evil was hopeless. But I have lived longer now, and have seen a lot of things. 
I have seen that hearts which are watered with tears grow mercy.
I write stories about difficult things because I think maybe, just maybe, if someone had told that man the right stories before he became a dogcatcher, he would have grown up to have tears in his heart.
My best writing tip is: dig deep. 
Deep, deep into the things that hurt, because those are the things that matter. Those are the things that need to be made right.

Kersten Hamilton is the author of the acclaimed Tyger Tyger series. To find out more about her books visit Kersten's Website.