Friday, July 27, 2012

Meet the authors

We are incredibly fortunate in this area to have access to a tremendous variety of author events hosted by bookstores as well as public libraries. I was excited to see that one of my favorite teen authors, Cecil Castellucci, will be at the Burien Library on Friday, August 10th at 3:30pm! Her middle school novel Rose Sees Red is one of my personal favorites.

Want to meet more authors? Check out the KCLS author events page and the Seattle Public Library's list of upcoming author readings for more great ideas. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Our little furry friends

There is a special bond between children and animals. Over and over I notice how children naturally empathize with the animal characters in stories - perhaps because they too are often small, helpless and at the mercy of adults? Many children's authors have also found that books featuring animal characters can deal with more delicate topics than ones using humans; something about the animals helps make it all feel safer.

Pets are on my mind at the moment because we just welcomed a new baby into the family! I am happy to introduce Violet, a sweet little kitten who came to live with us this week:

She has stolen our hearts already - and inspired me to recommend a few books about cats (and some general animal-related reading lists).

Margaret Beames' picture book Night Cat is a sweet, funny, just-suspenseful-enough story about a cat who isn't quite as much the fearless explorer as he'd like to be!

Peg Kehret's chapter book mystery series for the middle elementary grades about Pete the cat detective are sure to entertain. There's nothing like a clever pet who figures out things the humans are too obtuse to notice!

For middle and high school readers, A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass will touch the hearts of anyone who has suffered the loss of a beloved pet.

Want more? Try these:

Roland Smith's website (Pacific Northwest author who writes many animal-related books)
Scientists in the Field (great non-fiction series, many of which describe scientists studying animals)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

An author visit with Hena Khan!

This week I spoke with  author Hena Khan, who recently released Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: A Muslim Book of Colors. Like her first picture book, Night of the Moon: A Muslim Holiday Story, this is a lovely, luminous book to share with children. Muslim children will be thrilled to see aspects of their lives and culture reflected in the stories, and non-Muslim children will both learn something new and be able to identify with universal themes of family togetherness and celebration. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Hena! She's also written two Worst-Case Scenario adventure books - filled with excitement for middle grade readers!

How did to come to write books about Islam for kids?

Several years ago, when my older son was a toddler, I was discouraged by a lack of children’s books that represented Islamic faith and culture in an appealing way. Many of the books that were available then were overly didactic, or presented Muslim culture as something ancient or foreign. I wanted to write books that would be fun to read and beautiful to look at and portray American Muslims as I know them—diverse people who share the universal values of family, community, and charity, and who enjoy festive and fun-filled holidays. 

So are your books meant for a multicultural audience?

Definitely! I wanted books that my kids could both identify with and share with their friends and teachers. I tried to add extra value beyond the multicultural aspect for parents and educators. Night of the Moon introduces the lunar calendar and the moon cycle in addition to describing the holidays of Ramadan and Eid. A lot of parents tell me that after reading the book their kids look for the changing shape of the moon at night, which I love to imagine. Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns, which was just released in June, explores colors and simple Islamic themes for a young audience.

Do you find people are curious to learn about your faith and culture?

Growing up in Maryland, I always found friends, neighbors, and teachers to be interested in my family’s traditions, even though many had never heard of Ramadan, Eid, or even Pakistan, the country of my heritage. Today, with increased awareness, and sadly, increased misconception about Islam, there is a heightened curiosity about who American Muslims are. It’s been enormously gratifying to have adults tell me that they learned something from my books, like a teacher who told me that she never really understood what Ramadan was until she read “Night of the Moon.” I’ve found that educators in general are super encouraging, and interested in being inclusive and representing all their students. They just need the tools to help them do that.

Do you do school visits? 

Yes, and they are one of the best parts about being an author! The kids are always so enthusiastic and treat me like a rock star. And they always ask the best questions. I’m happy to do in person or Skype visits any time.

Can you recommend other good picture books about Islam and Muslims?

Over the years I’ve seen an increase in Islamic literature for kids, both stories and instructional books, published by mainstream publishers. Maha Addasi and Asma Mobin-Uddin have put out nice fiction picture books. There are a few great reference picture books out, and some wonderful middle grade literature like Shooting Kabul by N.H. Senzai, but there’s definitely room for more.

With Ramadan around the corner, what do you have planned?

It’s going to be a busy month of fasting and feasting with family and friends, and the longest and hottest Ramadan that we’ve experienced in many years (since Ramadan moves 11 days earlier in the calendar each year). My older son, who is now 11 years old, observed most of the fasts last year and really wants to keep all of them this Ramadan. We’ll make sure we plan for lots of indoor activities and hopefully spend time plenty of time reading, and, in my case, writing!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Love fantasy novels? Give these a try...

Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising has long been my favorite fantasy series - I had great fun with Harry Potter and absolutely adore Jonathan Stroud's Bartimeaus trilogy, but Cooper's books have remained my favorites. Published between 1966-77, they have a classic sensibility and require an attention and focus that is more demanding than many modern books for young people - but the reward for the careful reader is tremendous.

Still, she remains something of a well-kept secret in the US and so it was with great joy that I learned that Susan Cooper was chosen for the Margaret A. Edwards lifetime achievement award. This interview with Cooper reveals many delightful details about her life - as a student of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien at Oxford, and as a young reporter working for Ian Fleming!

If, like many, you are mourning the end of the Harry Potter series, and feel cast adrift in search of an absorbing set of fantasy books to sink your teeth into, why not pick up Over Sea, Under Stone and see what you think?