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  • fairrosa 7:55 am on March 2, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    Doing the Diversity Thing Diversely, Part 3: How Can We Know When We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know? 

    One form or another “matrix of knowledge” is often presented at educators workshops, especially when the discussion is about diversity.  These are the four quadrants of such matrix: 


    When I read Malinda Lo’s blog post on YA novel reviewing, I realized that many of the problems cited in her article come from the lower-right quadrant.

    We can look at these quadrants in light of book reviewing:

    • KK: One has a firm grasp of a particular knowledge and can readily access and utilize such knowledge.  Most reviews are done by reviewers familiar with the content or genre in order to accurately assess the quality of the book.
    • DKK: One sometimes is not consciously aware of possessing particular knowledge since such knowledge has become second nature.  Most reviewers will not have to put in extra effort to notice typos in a finished book.
    • KDK: One is consciously aware that one lacks particular knowledge or set of knowledge. In this case, research and inquiries are made and new knowledge is gained. Faced with a book where the main character has an unfamiliar medical condition will prompt any reviewer to do some research in order to assess the accuracy of the tale.
    • DKDK: One is unaware of one’s lack of knowledge in a particular area. More often than not, one also believes that he/she actually has solid knowledge about the matters at hand. This often makes it difficult for anyone to obtain actual knowledge.  In Lo’s “Perceptions of Diversity in Book Reviews,” most if not all of the examples cited in part 1 “Scarcely Plausible” and part 4 “Readers May Be Surprised” fit squarely into this  DKDK box.

    I have no doubt that the reviewers in Lo’s examples believe that they KNOW about peer cultures or that they really KNOW how potential readers will react, and thus evaluate the books accordingly: all based on the self-trust in one’s knowledge and also on an urgent sense of mission to be the gatekeeper, warding off culturally insensitive materials.  But, as explained clearly by Malinda Lo, such heroic protection could result in damning certain books for committing crimes against cultural accuracy while in truth that the book might be indeed culturally accurate.  Such as the demand of having a glossary, since it has been standard practices and requirements on books with “exotic” and “unfamiliar” (read: non-white) words or expressions and that lack of such glossary signifies inferior quality. 

    I myself have engaged in several discussions over the years on the portrayal of Chinese culture and characters in children’s and YA books.  I always do this with much trepidation: since there is no way that I can truly be the spokesperson for an entire (and extremely complex) culture, even if it is considered MINE.  (I am now even more aware of the differences between Chinese and Chinese American Cultures.) Take my post on Five Chinese Brothers for example.  This old picture book is often criticized as racially insensitive (or downright racist.) I addressed this controversy back in 2008, in Examining The Five Chinese Brothers, mostly defending the illustrations by Kurt Wiese. I pointed out that if one examines the pictures carefully and accurately, without being influenced by an overblown sense of social justice, one can easily see how many of these cartoon faces have different features: nose shapes, eyebrow angles, even ear shapes and sizes.  The well-intentioned critics usually claim that Wiese was being racially insensitive because he perpetuated the “oh, they all look the same; I can’t tell them apart” concept. These critics didn’t seem to realize that perhaps they themselves Don’t Know how to read cartoon/stylized lines of Chinese features.  To me, all five viewable faces in the two pictures below are distinctly different — are they?



    However, since posting about it 7 years ago, I have also come to realize how much I also DKDKed!  My insistence to support the use of yellow for the faces is based on my personal experiences: as a Chinese girl growing up in a homogeneous environment, proud to be a member of the “yellow race,” and never having to contend with my ethnic identity.  It is a highly biased stance (and I wanted to break the connection of Yellow=Undesirable, what an naive idea!)  I disregarded the real experiences of Chinese and Asian American child readers.  Just because I don’t find being labeled “yellow skinned” hurtful does not mean that there are not many who are indeed hurt.  In this case, I believe that their views are more valid than mine.

    Yes, I have to update my own mindset, bringing myself from the DKDK quadrant to at least the KDK quadrant and striving to listen and learn from others. 

    Since my pervious post in this series was about Africa Is My Home, I decided to look at reviews from 2 years ago when the book was first published.  I found this review from Kirkus and decided that a discussion about parts of the review fits nicely here.  

    I have some disagreements with the review, but most can be chalked up to personal tastes and subjective views.  I would not have classified this book as a “text-heavy picture book” but a “heavily illustrated historical fiction.”  I don’t feel that Robert Byrd’s illustrations are “frequently cramped,” although there are definitely a few busy scenes: at the market place, in the court house, and on the Amistad.  I (and my students) also don’t find the text befuddling in any way.  

    What made me wonder the most is this claim of one of the book’s several “flaws:”

    “Its illustrations…offer minimal variety in the characters’ skin tones and facial features.”

    The reviewer seems to say that it is quite problematic in depicting the people (adults and children) from Mende Land (Sierra Leone) with very similar skin tones: perhaps to the point that implies Robert Byrd’s lack of respect for the people depicted.  Most racially sensitive folks believe that “not all Africans have the same skin tones” and that “no one should lump all all Africans as being the same.”   We should treat them as individuals and as humans equal to everyone else.  This is all I hold true as well. However, the reason we see distinctly different shades of skin tones in the States (or other non-African continents) is the result of the long and vast history of African diaspora and racial mingling.  And in Africa Is My Home, the illustrator Robert Byrd shows his awareness of this in his illustration of  the market place scene set in Cuba:



    (note the two women shopping for vegetables/fruits)

    Byrd, using water color and non-realism style,) depicted Mende Land children and adults with very similar skin tones.  The variation, if any, is extremely subtle.


    There are also some very similar facial features, for sure: The shape of the nose, the large round eyes with the whites showing, etc.

    Curious, I searched for recent photographs of Sierra Leone children and came across many group photos such like this one from the BBC News Magazine.


    And cannot quite bring myself to label Byrd’s choices as a flaw in the book.

    If Byrd had made the skin tones and facial features a lot more varied for the Mende Land people, just like what he did for the Cuban market place scene, would the Kirkus reviewer then praise him for his cultural sensitivity, even if that might have been an even more inaccurate depiction?  From where I stand, this well-intended criticism, aimed to point out “cultural insensitivity,” seems to lack cultural understanding itself.

    Like I said earlier, I’m always really fearful when I hold different opinions about books regarding cultural references: since perhaps I am so off base.  So, I’d love to hear from others who have better understanding of the topics addressed here and would love to be enlightened about anything that I Don’t Know that I Don’t Know!

  • fairrosa 12:28 pm on February 25, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    Doing the Diversity Thing Diversely, Part 2: The Importance of Fretting 

    africaismyhomecoverYesterday marked the paperback release of Africa Is My Home, by Monica Edinger, a dear friend and colleague.  I always think of Monica as a fellow journeyer in the fantastic and sometimes treacherous, but always rewarding, territory that is Children’s Literature.  Monica and I met online 20 years ago over the Child_lit listserv.  Our mutual admiration for Lewis Carroll and his creations (Wonderland, puzzles, games…) made us fast virtual friends.  Since 1997, I have worked with Monica on numerous projects both at Dalton where she teaches 4th grade and I am the middle school librarian and out of Dalton, co-teaching a Fairy Tales course online for Rutgers’ Youth Literature Certificate program and co-planning SLJ’s Battle of the Kids’ Books for the past 7 years (with Jonathan Hunt and the good folks at SLJ,) among others.

    I did not write a blog post for the book’s hardcover release two years ago, feeling self-conscious about how I probably could not really be objective in “reviewing” this book, being the first person who read Monica’s very first draft more than a decade ago.  However, to celebrate the release of the paperback edition and to contemplate how this book fits within the recent discussion on the various ways Diversity in children’s books can be achieved, I am compelled to write about it even more — even if I cannot extract my knowledge of the creative process of the book from how I view the final product.

    I know intimately what Monica went through in writing and re-writing this book: switching narrative voices, changing from nonfiction to fiction to nonfiction to fiction several times, “shopping” it around to various publishers and working with various potential editors.  I also knew first hand how much she invested in making this (slim in size and yet hefty in subject matter) book: remembering what Sierra Leone was like when she spent two youthful years there, connecting and reconnecting with people from Sierra Leone to check and re-check facts, traveling to Connecticut (Amistad Museum) and Ohio (Oberlin) to immerse herself in primary materials about Sarah Margru, not to mention all the online researches she conducted through a decade.  I also listened to her fret, and fret, and fret.

    Ah, the fretting.

    Monica Edinger is a German Jew.  She is not of African descent.  She is white.  She lives in the 20th and 21st century.  Sierra Leone is not exactly the same as Mendeland those many years ago.  And this is NOT her own conjured-up story but the tale of a real person who lived and felt. It is also a story that has to work for a child reader when it’s told.  So many details to consider…and to fret over.

    How would the world receive this book when it finally got published?  Would the book receive positive or negative reviews?  Would the people whose story she chose to tell understand how much respect and care she had in the making of the book?  Would the book and the story be dismissed?  So many questions and potential pitfalls to imagine…and to fret over.

    All that fretting is what I think needs to go into writing any book, but perhaps especially into writing “diverse” books where cultural authenticity and respect are extremely important.

    I believe that Monica’s relentless drive of writing this book as authentic as she could manage came from several places: her sincere passion to tell this less-known story, her perfectionist’s need to be meticulous and accurate, her true fondness of researching and verifying facts, her strong dose of a healthy fear of not getting it right, and her tremendous respect and caring of the welfare of the people and culture of Sierra Leone.  She did not write a book in the vein of what I have started thinking as a “third world tragedy story” told by a well-intentioned white person from a completely outsider viewpoint, often tinged with a sense of superiority and savior mentality.  She wrote a story (with assistance from historical documents, her editor Sarah Ketchersid, and the talented illustrator Robert Byrd) that brings a historical tale to life with a high degree of authenticity and no outsider judgment.  It enriches and will continue to enrich the reading and cultural experiences of young readers.

    I’m so glad that Africa is My Home has received much praise and accolades: the result of the incessant fretting from all parties involved.

    In the next post, I will discuss a particular review of Africa is My Home and when it first hit the market and ponder over similar questions of what Malinda Lo wrote on her blog post about reviewers’ perceptions when it comes to diversity topics in children’s and YA books.

  • fairrosa 10:55 am on February 24, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    Doing the Diversity Thing Diversely, Part 1 

    The many discussions face to face and online about We Need Diverse Books in children’s and YA literature have informed me that there simply isn’t a cure-all solution when it comes to creating and promoting diverse books for young readers.

    So, I plan to share some thoughts on this Diversity Thing from my vantage point, which is many folds and diverse and also in flux as I learn more from others.  Before putting up these blog entries, I’d like to first describe who I am in relation to children’s literature and where that background fits into the Diversity conversation, so readers may have a firm grip on where I come from when expressing my ideas, which, I guess, is something we all need to start doing — sharing of where we come from and why we feel certain ways and understanding where others have come from and why they feel certain ways.

    I am a Taiwanese/Chinese American.  I was born in the 60s, attended a public elementary school, then went on to attend the Catholic Sacred Heart Girls’ middle and high school (boarding), and finally National Taiwan Normal University (teacher’s college.) My double degrees were BAs in Education and English Lit.  After graduating, I taught English (as required foreign language) in a public middle school from 1987 to 1989.

    My parents were from Mainland China, part of Chiang Kai Shek’s (Jiang Zhong Zheng) army retreat to Taiwan after the Chinese Civil War in the 1940s that resulted in the divide between the Communist China and the (more) Democratic Taiwan (Republic of China) regimes.  We still have a whole clan of the Xu family in Yunnan Province in China that I am attempting to re-establish relationship with.

    • Growing up in a largely homogeneous environment, being a member of the dominant class (my father was a member of the inner circle of both Chiang Kai Shek and his son, President Jiang Jing Guo,) and doing well in school in a climate that revered the intellect made it impossible for me to truly understand the feelings of being an underdog.  (Fortunately my near-sightedness, my short stature, and the fact I was not considered a beauty and was reminded of such fact by family and friends alike all through my youth balanced out that cockiness and allowed for some humility.) I also never had an ethnic identity crisis as many Asian Americans might have to struggle through since I was never a Minority!

    As a young person, I was addicted to books and reading: my favorite stories came from Taiwan, China, Germany, France, Japan, Sweden, India, Italy, the US, Colombia, Russia, Greece, and many other countries. Most were classics but also plenty of contemporary (60s to 80s) writings.  All of my closest friends loved books.  However, reading novels was not considered the best way to spend one’s time.  Philosophical and personal essays were all the rage when I was growing up — all about how to better oneself, morally and worldly.

    I came to the United States to study children’s literature in 1989 and received my MA from Simmons College in 1991.  In 1996, I received an MLS degree with a concentration on services to children.

    • One of my youthful aspirations was to win a Nobel Prize in literature.  I was a good writer, in those popular short essay forms.  I couldn’t and still can’t create fiction.  I revere the art form that is literature and since I’m so invested in literature for children, it is almost a sacred form to me.  This is why I am a very critical reader and get easily frustrated when I see something not done right that can be easily fixed.

    I have been working since 1991 in New York City alone and have not lived elsewhere but NYC since 1991.  My string of jobs were all related to children’s book:

    sales clerk for Eeyore’s bookstore for children (1991-1992)

    subsidiary rights assistant to the department head at Macmillan Children’s Publishing (1992-1994)

    children’s librarian at the New York Public Library (1994-1997)

    middle school librarian at The Dalton School (1997-)

    • There are, in my head, inherent biases about racial compositions of peer groups by living only in New York City for 20+ years and working in a school where at least 40% of the students are not white. Immersed in such a diverse environment, it is hard for me to visualize, although I am cognizant to the fact, that in many States/Cities/Towns, young people do not meet “others” on a regular basis.
    • My continuous interaction with high achieving students who read regularly, have a passion for books, and can dissect literature aptly for the past 18 years greatly colors my view of what books are best for which age range and the kinds of books I promote at my workplace and on my blog.

    I have been a member of the Association of Library Services to Children (ALSC) at ALA for almost 20 years and have served on two Newbery Committees, Notable Children’s Books Committee, and also recently Best Fiction for Young Adults for the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) — among other non-book related committees.  I have also been involved in co-planning and co-maintaining SLJ’s Battle of the Kids’ Books site for the past 7 years.

    • This resulted in reading, thinking, and writing about children’s and YA literature on a regular basis and discussing books with thoughtful and experienced colleagues and practitioners such as Nina Lindsay, Monica Edinger, Vicky Smith, Kathy Odean, Phoebe Yeh, Junko Yokota, Jonathan Hunt, Adam Gidwitz, and many others.
    • Fairrosa Cyber Library (since 1994) is my site/blog devoted to children’s books that was one of the oldest online resources for children’s literature (and needs to be re-vamped, I know!)

    A note on my reading habit: I still read English painfully slowly — having to sound out pretty much every word.  This is both a curse (I cannot read as many books as I’d like to) and a blessing (I am told often that I am a “careful” reader and that my slow-reading habit allows me to cite specific examples about style, tone, authenticity, etc.) 

    A note on my reading preferences: I like unconventional and challenging literary forms and gravitate to fantasy and science fiction readily but can easily enjoy any genre, as long as I deem it “well written.”  Now, that’s another can of worms that I won’t open here.

    A note on my attitude about this whole Diversity thing: The cliche is true: It is a long, hard, and never ending journey, and one cannot get anywhere without throwing something out there that might upset some folks, stir up the pot, generate passionate dissents, etc.  I am always willing to be made to see a different side of each matter and understand where others have come from, even if I might still disagree with them.  It is also of utter importance to me that during the discourse, others understand my efforts in upholding a professional mindset and stance, even when I appear to be extremely passionate and emotional (which I can be, often) about the matters at hand.  

    • Rosanne Parry 11:26 pm on February 24, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      Thanks for posting so clearly where you are coming from.

      I had a fascinating exchange at a 4th grade book club last week. I showed them a draft of the cover of my upcoming MG novel which has a biracial boy & his white cousin prominently featured. They were all very eager to tell me about their multi-racial & multi-ethnic families. None of these kids looked bi-racial to me & it would be easy, as an outsider to this classroom to assume I was addressing an all white audience. I’m learning to make no assumptions on appearance.

      As a part-time bookseller I’ve also learned than many of the white (or white-looking) adults are buying books for kids, grandkids, step kids, foster kids and extended family who are not white and they are very passionate about finding lit that is both high quality and about not white characters. So that’s interesting and worth keeping in mind.

      • fairrosa 12:07 am on February 25, 2015 Permalink | Reply

        And yet, we also cannot forget the fact that there ARE millions of white kids who also deserve stories about them and their families. Perhaps I should not worry about them because their stories will always be told? I don’t want white authors (or even non-white authors) to feel that they cannot tell stories of white families/kids/communities any more. We need ALL the voices — that’s the true spirit of diversity.

    • Carol 2:57 pm on February 25, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      In looking for diverse books, which I do and I think everyone dedicated to social justice does, I want books that tell the stories of interactions between many diverse youth. Not just LGBTQ or race or social class– but the mixture. In order to write effectively of those interactions you have have have to get inside the heads of folks of your own culture race gender preference and class and those who do not share those characteristics. I want more of those books, and I think– but I could be wrong– that members of one minority or less dominant culture ( I’m sure my terminology is going to get me in trouble here) are better at understanding the others. I do think women write better books about men than men write about women. This is a just a generality and a stereotype I know, but I then appreciate even more when a man gets woman right. Having said all that, I think we have to keep looking at what works and what doesn’t. I love that you are passionate about it and brave enough to post.

      • fairrosa 12:44 pm on February 26, 2015 Permalink | Reply

        I am learning a lot about identity intersectionality — since no one is ever one-dimensional. I personally do not believe that literature should (for children or adults) exist as a mere vehicle in promoting social justices. As I said, literature is sacred and I think it transcends, when its at its best form. That said, I also believe that no book (especially those we hand to children) should be so carelessly constructed as to perpetuate negative or obsolete social norms.

  • fairrosa 10:19 pm on February 23, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    We Need Diverse, AND Amazing, AND Well Informed, AND Creative, AND Mind Stretching, Books 

    Last night, I rushed home to watch the Oscars live broadcast.

    I was not following the news or discussion over the “All White Nominees” situation. So, it was a surprise to me that not a single person of color (brown, yellow, black, what have you) walked onto the stage to receive the golden statuette.

    This morning, I woke up still pondering: hmm… what happened?  Was there not a single worthwhile movie featuring or made by people of color during the year 2014 that warranted some recognition?  If not, what happened?  Were there no creative or talented POC in the entertainment industry or were they not given the opportunities by the studios and the gatekeepers to showcase their talents?  If they never got to be SEEN, how could they have been nominated, or have won?   Then there’s the question of what happened with Selma and its actors, director, and writer?

    The Youth Media awards press conference each year (where Newbery, Caldecott, Coretta Scott King, Printz, etc. awards are announced) has been dubbed, “The Academy Awards of Children’s Literature,” as if that’s high praise and what we children’s lit folks should strive to be.   At this point, I don’t want my beloved children’s literature field to be linked with the Academy Awards, especially after a strong showing of diverse topics, characters, and creators this year: a proud moment for many practitioners and champions of children’s lit.

    And yet, the heated debate sparked by Malinda Lo’s and Roger Sutton’s recent blog posts (Lo’s Perceptions of Diversity in Book Reviews and Sutton’s Are We Doing It White?) reveals that even in the wake of a year of diverse winners, the children’s literature industry still has a long way to go in diversifying on all fronts, especially the gatekeepers (editors, publishers, reviewers, librarians, etc.) and their views.

    I have been taking notes on others’ and my own thoughts and will post my reactions and observations in a few installments. Lots of soul searching and perspectives changing on-going in my head!


    • fairrosa 12:34 am on February 24, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      Correction: not ALL white nominees & winners: Common and John Legend won for the song “Glory” from Selma, and Alejandro González Iñárritu won three Oscars for Birdman. (Also many non-white creators were nominated for documentary categories…

  • fairrosa 12:19 pm on February 22, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    West of the Moon 

    westofthemoon by Margi Preus

    One of my favorite folk tales is East of the Sun, West of the Moon, and many children’s books have been inspired by this tale, such as East by Edith Pattou, a beautiful fantasy reimagining. I enjoyed reading this book by Preus, but due to my own preferences for “real” magic and fantasy, I found myself unsatisfied by the dreams/magical realism/faux fantasy elements in what is really a tale of immigration. That said, I appreciated greatly Preus’ ability to give deep and complex emotions to Astri and her deft hand at portraying vivid landscapes and adventures.

  • fairrosa 9:44 am on February 11, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    This One Summer 

    thisonesummer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki

    Love the art in this bock, especially the skillful and creative ways many emotions are conveyed through imagery and hinted via lines and swirls. This is a quiet graphic story that eloquently showcases the interior life of a precocious prepubescent mind. Many of the double spreads are breathtaking and heartbreaking. It feels like a privilege to be allowed to peek into the minds of Rose and those around her.

    • Harold Underdown (@HUnderdown) 10:15 am on February 11, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      Glad you liked it! It was one of my favorite books of year and I was very pleased to see it get a Caldecott Honor…

    • fairrosa 6:10 pm on February 11, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      Been thinking about the Caldecott and what a game-changing year (one hopes) this has been — also re El Deafo for Newbery!

      • debbiereese 3:04 pm on February 23, 2015 Permalink | Reply

        I haven’t seen that book yet but people have written to me about the scenes in the Indian Village.

    • fairrosa 10:37 pm on February 23, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      Debbie, would love to know your thoughts on the Indian Village scene.

  • fairrosa 9:15 pm on February 10, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    The Player of Games 

    playerofgamesby Iain M. Banks

    This second volume of The Culture series by Iain Banks kept me entranced throughout its sprawling telling of a brand new “universe” in my reading world.

    Banks created a Utopian future where ownerships of objects, places, or people (as in, exclusive relationships) are no longer the norm and where sexual identities and preferences are all treated equal: in fact gender changes and and having partners in both genders are considered common place. In such a “Culture,” how do people entertain themselves and what matters and what matters not? Fun questions to ponder and explore. However, most of the story was set in the off world of Asad which bears similarities to our own human world — or perhaps the more barbaric ages of our world. Asad’s social structure is highly organized around rules and punishments — and there are some very cruel ways that criminals are dealt with (also what constitutes a “crime” can be quite shocking.)

    I enjoyed reading the many theories of how the games are constructed and played and the author kept me guessing as to what the outcome would be. Thanks to my role playing game friend Brian who introduced me to this book! I’m onward to the first book of the series: Considering Phlebas.

  • fairrosa 9:56 am on February 7, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances 

    triggerwarning by Neil Gaiman

    This is typical Gaiman: disturbing and unsettling little scenes, interesting observations of human natures, everything floating in between waking and dreaming. My favorite are the longer tales, “The Truth Is A Cave in the Black Mountains,” “The Sleeper and the Spindle,” and “The Black Dog.” The first two are folk/fairy tale reimagined, while the last one is an American Gods’ short with Shadow’s adventures continuing. Another small dosage to hold us over for the sequel to American Gods? Calendar of Tales with its many weird crowd sourced tales is also highly enjoyable. Oh, I can’t wait to actually WATCH a special episode (of the 11th doctor and Amy Pond) made based on “Nothing O’Clock.”

  • fairrosa 1:38 pm on February 5, 2015 Permalink | Reply

    Over There at SLJ’s Battle of the Kids’ Books… 

    As one third of the Three-Headed-Battle-Commander, I’m now directing my and your attention toward this year’s Battle of the Kids’ Books, hosted annually by School Library Journal.

    It is a way for us to highlight many outstanding titles from the previous year, be they award winners already or sleepers until now.  Read all sixteen books, follow the judges’ decisions, vote for the Undead, and make your opinions heard in the Comments!

  • fairrosa 8:03 pm on February 3, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    It Is Done! BFYA 2015 and Top Ten 

    It has been a year of rigorous reading and note taking and thinking hard on the 2014 YA fiction for me and my 14 fellow committee members. 

    Now the list is finalized: http://www.ala.org/yalsa/2015-best-fiction-young-adults

    And the top ten YA fiction of the year (out of more than 600 submitted titles)  are:

    The Carnival at Bray. By Jessie Ann Foley.

    The Crossover. By Kwame Alexander.

    The Gospel of Winter. By Brendan Kiely.

    I’ll Give You the Sun. By Jandy Nelson.

    Jackaby. By William Ritter.

    Noggin. By John Corey Whaley

    The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim. By E. K. Johnston.

    Vango. By Timothee de Fombelle.

    We Were Liars. By E. Lockhart.

    The Young Elites. By Marie Lu.

  • fairrosa 1:45 pm on January 18, 2015 Permalink | Reply

    Another almond post… but the blogger failed to mention that ALMOND EYES originated from traditional Chinese texts where women were frequently described as having “almond eyes“ meaning larger than usual eyes shaped like an almond — so, kind of what the generic “western eyes” might look like! Since it is rarer, it is more desirable (like the double eye-lids and really pale complexion.)


  • fairrosa 1:01 pm on January 18, 2015 Permalink | Reply

    I'm Not Sure I'm So Fond of Almonds 

    I like many different kinds of nuts. I actually am QUITE fond of almonds and many things made from almonds, even Toasted Almonds.  However, in the past few days, reading different books, written both by non-Asian and Asian authors, I have found myself puzzled by the insistence of the shade of my kind of skin as “toasted almond.”  It feels like a lazy throw-away descriptor, much like that of “olive skin tone” (as referenced in my other post.)

    Here, depending on the lighting and different parts of my body being highlighted, are some sampling of my skin color from photos taken in 2014:

    Screen Shot 2015-01-18 at 11.57.56 AMScreen Shot 2015-01-18 at 11.57.07 AMScreen Shot 2015-01-18 at 11.56.41 AMScreen Shot 2015-01-18 at 11.55.55 AM

    Here are pictures I took off the internet, showing what toasted almonds might look like in different settings, I guess, under different degrees of “toasting”?



    I can definitely see Some resemblance between some of my photos and those of the almonds, after the toasting process. But for some reason, I feel heavily reduced since that seems to be the only way to describe my skin tones and those of millions of others who share my skin tones.

    A plea: can we possibly build up some newer vocabulary, phrases, and ways in describing physical attributes, especially varying skin tones?  Perhaps more precise, and not always resorting to food comparisons?  (Another recent weird encounter — some Chinese girl’s complexion is described as “white rice noodles,” as a way of non-offensive, or even complimentary description — I can’t imagine any Chinese girl being too excited being told that their skin reminds people of white rice noodles. Just imagine, if you are reading a book where a white girl’s complexion is described as reminding the boy next door of a plate of “steaming ziti.”)

    This site might not offer the ultimate answer to all questions about describing complexions and other physical attributes, but it serves as a starting point and a reminder of how not to resort to stock phrases and cliches. http://writingwithcolor.tumblr.com/FAQ

    • DaNae 1:36 pm on January 18, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      You are hilarious. Maybe you are more of a sugar-crusted almond with a tinge of orange peel for zing and a shake of black pepper for zip. Those are my specialty.

      • fairrosa 1:46 pm on January 18, 2015 Permalink | Reply

        Haha… but I get so annoyed and since it was like THREE books in a row where an Asian girl is described this way…. I guess I should actually be quite grateful that more Asian characters appear in books for kids. Baby steps… baby steps!

      • fairrosa 1:47 pm on January 18, 2015 Permalink | Reply

        And your toasted almond sounds absolutely delicious! I want some!!!

    • Stacy 3:18 pm on February 24, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      N.K. Jemisin has written a wonderful series of posts examining this, and giving writers tools for how to better describe POC characters without using commodities as comparisons. The series starts here: http://nkjemisin.com/2009/04/ways-to-describe-characters-of-color/

      Here are the other two posts:



      • fairrosa 5:10 pm on February 24, 2015 Permalink | Reply

        Thank you, Stacy, for bringing these articles to my and the readers’ attention. As I’m not a writer, I can’t offer my own examples of ideal ways in describing colors – skin, eyes, hair, mostly. As a reader, I like some of the descriptions in her examples more than others. However, at least this is someone who is being conscious of the many pitfalls that one might encounter when describing any person. There are many stock/cliche phrases when writing about white folks, too, which are easily ignored by readers as generic and we simply supplement with imageries in our own heads.

        • Stacy 6:44 pm on February 26, 2015 Permalink | Reply

          I should note, in case you don’t know, that N.K. Jemisin is a black woman. I think your reaction of liking some but not others is definitely a valid reaction–it’s a starting-off place to get writers to think about how to do this better. I refer writers to this who are looking for ways of getting beyond those stock cliches, because it’s a great jumping-off point for thinking about it more deeply and gaining new ideas.

    • fairrosa 9:52 pm on February 26, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      Definitely. The whole idea is to brainstorm of creative and respectful ways in describing all people. Not just non-white. I am quite fatigued by the stock phrases of how white skins and blue eyes are described, too! Sometimes I almost wish that the aithors leave me to imagine at my free will, rather than boxing me in!

  • fairrosa 9:53 am on January 1, 2015 Permalink | Reply

    When a reader completely missed the author’s intent or craft 

    First morning of 2015. 

    Just finished a very powerful book with a strong, convincing, well constructed multiple view points narrative structure and challenging ideas that demand the readers to live with the discomfort of not-knowing the whole truth, to understand that life is complex depending on the the angles of the viewers, and to mull over the potential futures of the varied characters.

    Headed over to goodreads and see other readers’ reactions.  Many positive ones and especially from those who have lived through similar circumstances as the characters did in the book.  But then, I found a review complaining that because “the reader” finds it confusing how the story is told with so many different POVs and that “the reader” cannot see the point of some side characters’ remarks even though they give a fuller picture of how complex such matters can be and “the reader” cannot accept a book with no clearcut facts presented even though that is the whole entire point of the narrative.

    I wanted to leave a comment and requested that “the reader” to admit her own shortcomings in her inability to appreciate challenging literary constructs and demanding ethical quandaries.  But then, I wonder: can we ever fault a reader for her inabilities to meet the author at the author’s level?  Is it the reader’s responsibility to challenge herself that way? 

    This comes down to how we view books:

    Is a book a sacred or demi-sacred object and deserves reverence and hard work to decipher by every reader?  Or is a book just another consumer product and the reader can register complaints and give poor ratings purely based on personal preferences without considering the crafts and intents of the author?

    I have been thinking about subjective and objective analyses of arts in all forms for a while and this goodreads review just brought it home for me that I cannot treat books as mere goods to be liked or disliked but artistic expressions that need critical examinations even if a reader’s emotional reaction can be a major component in evaluating a narrative’s success. 

  • fairrosa 9:56 am on December 18, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , translation,   

    On a wet wintry night last week (12/10/2014,) I participated in a panel discussion where the question of how to bring more international YA literature into the American market was raised and pondered. Hosted by Words without Borders and NYPL and moderated by Marc Aronson. Other panelists are Arthur Levine, publisher of Arthur Levine Books/Scholastic, Padma Venkatraman, author of A Time to Dance, and Briony Everroad, guest editor for the Words without Borders December issue on International YA literature. This is a summary of the evening.

  • fairrosa 10:46 am on December 17, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , ,   

    BFYA 2015 Nominations – Final List 

    We did it!  Our Committee of 15 nominated 113 titles to be considered for Best Fiction for Young Adults, 2015.  You can find out what the titles are with short annotations on the official ALA/YALSA site.

    Here’s a simplified list with just titles — Any surprises? Favorites? Comment away :)

    Al Said, Adi Let’s Get Lost
    Anderson, Jodi Lynn The Vanishing Season
    Arnett, Mindee Avalon
    Aronson, Marc One Death, Nine Stories
    Bassoff, Leah & Laura DeLuca Lost Girl Found
    Brezenoff, Steve Guy in Real Life
    Caletti, Deb The Last Forever
    DeWoskin, Rachel Blind
    Fine, Sarah Of Metal and Wishes
    Foley, Jessie Ann The Carnival at Bray
    Fombelle, Timothee de Vango
    Giles, Gail Girls Like Us
    Gold, Jennifer Soldier Doll
    Griffin, Bethany The Fall
    Hosie, Donna The Devil’s Intern
    Kiernan, Celine Into the Grey
    King, A.S. Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future
    Knudsen, Michelle Evil Librarian
    LaMarche, Una Like No Other
    Maas, Sarah Heir of Fire
    Magoon, Kekla How It Went Down
    Mathieu, Jennifer The Truth About Alice
    McGovern, Cammie Say What You Will
    Mesrobian, Carrie Perfectly Good White Boy
    Miller, Lauren Free to Fall
    Moracho, Cristina Althea & Oliver
    Nix, Garth Clariel
    Parker, Natalie C. Beware the Wild
    Parsons, Mark Huntley Road Rash
    Pearson, Mary E. The Kiss of Deception
    Polonsky, Ami Gracefully Grayson
    Ritter, William Jackaby
    Smith, Andrew 100 Sideways Miles
    Smith, Jennifer E. The Geography of You and Me
    Spears, Kat Sway
    Stiefvater, Maggie Blue Lily, Lily Blue
    Talkington, Amy Liv, Forever
    Tregay, Sarah Fan Art
    Walrath, Dana Like Water on Stone
    Zarr, Sara Roomies
    Aslan, Austin The Islands at the End of the World
    Fredericks, Mariah Season of the Witch
    Kizer, Amber Pieces of Me
    Phillips, LInda Vigen Crazy
    Schrefer, Eliot Threatened
    Smith, Sherwood & Brown, Rachel Manija Stranger
    Tintera, Amy Rebel
    Willey, Margaret Beetle Boy
    Alexander, Kwame The Crossover
    Almond, David The True Tale of Monster Billy Dean
    Anderson, Laurie Halse The Impossible Knife of Memory
    Armentrout, Jennifer Don’t Look Back
    Bedford, Martyn Never Ending
    Blankman, Anne Prisoner of Night and Fog
    Brown, Jennifer Torn Away
    Brown, Skila Caminar
    Burgess, Melvin The Hit
    Carleson, J.C. The Tyrant’s Daughter
    Colbert, Brandy Pointe
    Combs, Sarah Breakfast Served Anytime
    Dellaira, Ava Love Letters to the Dead
    Giles, Lamar Fake ID
    Graudin, Ryan The Walled City
    Green, Sally Half Bad
    Griffin, Adele The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone
    Han, Jenny To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
    Hattemer, Kate The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy
    Herbach, Geoff Fat Boy vs. the Cheerleaders
    Howe, Katherine Conversion
    Hubbard, Jenny And We Stay
    Johnston, E.K. The Story of Owen: Dragonslayer of Troneheim
    Kephart, Beth Going Over
    Kiely, Brendan The Gospel of Winter
    Kuehn, Stephanie Complicit
    Kulper, Kendall Salt & Storm
    LaCour, Nina Everything Leads to You
    LaFevers, Robin Mortal Heart
    Lloyd-Jones, Emily Illusive
    Lockhart, e. We Were Liars
    Lu, Marie The Young Elites
    Maciel, Amanda Tease
    Maguire, Gregory Egg & Spoon
    Nelson, Jandy I’ll Give You the Sun
    Neri, G Knockout Games
    Oliver, Lauren Panic
    Paige, Danielle Dorothy Must Die
    Philbrick, Rodman Zane and the Hurricane: A Story of Katrina
    Pratt, Non Trouble
    Quintero, Isabel Gabi, a Girl in Pieces
    Reinhardt, Dana We Are the Goldens
    Reynolds, Jason When I Was the Greatest
    Rutkoski, Marie The Winner’s Curse
    Sedgwick, Marcus She Is Not Invisible
    Sharpe, Tess Far From You
    Shepherd, Megan Her Dark Curiosity
    Shinoda, Anna Learning Not to Drown
    Smith, Andrew Grasshopper Jungle
    Smith, Lindsay Sekret
    Strasser, Todd No Place
    Taylor, Laini Dreams of Gods and Monsters
    Templeman, McCormick The Glass Casket
    Tripp, Ben The Accidental Highwayman
    Venkatraman, Padma A Time to Dance
    Vlahos, Len The Scar Boys
    Waller, Sharon Biggs A Mad, Wicked Folly
    Walton, Leslye The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender
    Westerfeld, Scott Afterworlds
    Whaley, John Corey Noggin
    White, Kiersten & Jim Di Bartolo In the Shadows
    Wiles, Deborah Revolution
    Wolitzer, Meg Belzhar
    Wood, Fiona Wildlife
    Winters, Cat The Cure for Dreaming
  • fairrosa 3:45 pm on November 30, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: ,   

    School Library Journal’s Best Books of 2014 are announced. Four categories: Picture Books, Middle Grade, Young Adult, and Nonfiction. Use the list to buy books for your library, find gifts for your loved ones, or for your personal reading pleasure: http://www.slj.com/best-books-2014

  • fairrosa 5:32 pm on November 9, 2014 Permalink | Reply  

    Peace Corps Volunteer’s Africa Book Honored by Smithsonian 

    Originally posted on Sherbro Foundation:

    Fellow former Sierra Leone Peace Corps Volunteer Monica Edinger was honored yesterday at the Smithsonian for her children’s book – Africa is my Home: Child of the Amistad.  It tells the story of a child captured into slavery on the Amistad ship and her eventual return to Sierra Leone.

    edinger coverThe Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art (NMAA) held their  22nd annual Children’s Africana Book Awards (CABA) in Washington, DC.  CABA was created by Africa Access and the Outreach Council of the African Studies Association to honor authors and illustrators who have produced exceptional books on Africa for young people.

    Four books were honored in this category for young people, including a book authored by Desmond Tutu. Not bad company to keep, Monica.  Congradulations!

    I introduced her book on the blog last September. Check it out.  Looking for an Xmas gift for a child in your life?  This would make a…

    View original 9 more words

  • fairrosa 10:35 am on November 3, 2014 Permalink | Reply

    Listening to a short story collection of Mark Twain and am so delighted. The Diaries of Adam and Eve is simply brilliant! Also almost done with The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone by Adele Griffin.

  • fairrosa 1:53 pm on October 26, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , gross, , ,   

    Review: Fight Club 

    Fight Club
    Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    I never watched the entire Fight Club movie — only bits and pieces. Now I have to find time to watch the movie in its entirety to see how they managed to adapt this superb novel into its very successful screen counterpart. Granted, I probably do not wish to see all the gruesome and gross scenes literally translated for film, although those are the scenes that definitely appealed to my reading self. Whether it’s intended by the author or conjured up by my own protective mechanism, the over-the-top crazy schemes and bloody messes always seem to take on a humorous tone — sometimes light and oftentimes really dark, but always laugh-out-loud hilarious. I can see re-reading it in a few years just to trace the narrator’s slow unraveling and downfall and see all the telltale signs of the final reveal along the path. Can’t help but giving it a five star, highly recommended rating!

    View all my goodreads reviews

  • fairrosa 1:45 pm on October 26, 2014 Permalink | Reply

    Finished The Young Elite by Marie Lu and Fight Club by Chuck Palaniuk. Starting The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone by Adele Griffin and The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County and Other Stories by Mark Twain.

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