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Welcome to Words Like Rain!

Words Like Rain

 

L. M. Quraishi is a children’s book writer, teacher and mom who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. She writes fiction and non-fiction for children of all ages – about pelicans, magic, kung fu, being naughty, irritable zoo animals, loss, getting along, escalators, goddesses, and anything else that catches her fancy. Currently she’s seeking representation for her picture book manuscripts, and working on a middle grade novel. In her blog Words Like Rain, she explores the art and business of writing for children, reviews diverse books for children, shares tips for writers and lesson plans for teachers.

Time to Listen Tuesday: Jacqueline Woodson

This interview of Jacqueline Woodson for the September/October 2016 issue of Poets & Writers magazine highlights the deliberate and courageous choices she has made as an artist to tell the “invisible” story.

A Great Good: An Interview with Jacqueline Woodson

Windows/Mirrors Book Review: Harvesting Hope – The Story of César Chávez

© 2016, Logo by L. M. Quraishi

© 2016, Logo by L. M. Quraishi

This weekly #Windows/Mirrors series of book reviews, inspired by the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement, offers children’s books created by or about people of diversity.

I am so proud of the American people at this time in history. It seems that nothing can silence the dialogue we want to have about equity, oppression, privilege and inclusion. Although at times we may find it difficult or impossible to find common ground in our conversations with each other, we are talking and we are listening.

Join the conversation! Read a diverse book to a child in your life, and tell us what you talked about. Head over to #TimeToListenTuesday to read a perspective you might not normally seek. Leave a comment and tell me what you think. Thanks for reading!

“Nearly every crop caused torment.”

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Harvesting Hope: The Story of César Chávez, by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Yuyi Morales, Scholastic, 2003, Pura Belpré Honor Book

Highlighting the fierce spirit and warm purpose of César Chávez, this book tells the story of his life from childhood to death, highlighting the birth of La Causa, the 1965 march to Sacramento, and the signing of the first contract for farmworkers in American history.

Read this book because it will evoke a deep empathy for the struggles of migrant workers to put food on America’s tables, and live with dignity and prosperity. From the mockery and punishment that César Chávez endured for speaking Spanish in school to the hunger strikes that changed the fortunes of huge produce companies, the story of César’s vision and determination will inspire all of us to fully inhabit our own power for change.

Writers will enjoy the language that quietly reveals the evolution of César from a beloved child to a fierce fighter for the rights of his fellow farmworkers. As a child, “César thought the whole world belonged to his family” when they still owned their ranch in Arizona. Later it becomes clear that this personal point of reference helped César develop his sense of injustice, first realizing that “farm chores on someone else’s farm instead of his own felt like a form of slavery,” then developing his conviction that “farmwork did not have to be so miserable.”

Artists will enjoy the warm palette and hopeful brushstrokes of Yuji Morales’ luminous artwork, as well as the thoughtful details of every spread. On a page where César’s mother cautions him against physical violence, her dress flows like the land beneath her child, embracing and connecting. When the family loses their ranch to drought, a stubborn horse and looming bulldozer in the background allude to the much larger conflict between family farms and industrial farming. The rounded body shapes in a spread describing the backbreaking conditions of farmworkers evoke Diego Rivera, and on a page where César begins recruiting people to join his fight “one by one,” a single farmworker makes eye contact with him from across the field as she hefts a flat of strawberries.

Add this book to your collection because like its title, this book grows hope that as individuals and as a people, we can make changes in our world for equity and humanity.

More books by Kathleen Krull:

More books by Yuyi Morales:

“In a fight for justice, he told everyone, truth was a better weapon than violence.”

 

 

The Crossover: A Windows/Mirrors Book Review

“If my hair were a tree, I’d climb it.”

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The Crossover, by Kwame Alexander, Houghton Mifflin, 2015

Rhythm, meaning, heart – all the elements of great poetry, employed to tell a story from a compelling point of view. Two young African American twins struggle with identity, competition, puberty and loss.

Read this book because it’s the real deal, taking on big topics like first love, brotherly love, injury and forgiveness, and especially health, illness and death.

Writers will enjoy the satisfying playfulness of the language, rhythm and onomatopoeia perfectly placed to convey emotion and energy and the ups and downs of growing up.

Add this book to your collection because there are not enough basketball-bouncing, brothers trouncing, soul-sifting, heart-uplifting stories for African American teens out there, and certainly not ones written in flawless verse.

Other books by Kwame Alexander include:

Read more about The Crossover here:

At the 2015 SCBWI LA Conference, Kwame’s keynote presentation features this advice to writers and basketball players and boys alike:

“Hustle dig

Grind push

Run fast

Change pivot

Chase pull

Aim shoot

Work smart

Live smarter

Play hard

Practice harder.”

 

 

Time to Listen Tuesday:

Creative Commons image via clipartist.net

Creative Commons image via clipartist.net

If the only images of brown people you saw in the books you read as a child were of the Gingerbread Man (a character always on the run and destined to be eaten), how would that affect your self-image, sense of identity, and understanding of the world? Six luminaries in the field of publishing for children reflect on how the availability of diverse books affected them as children and what changes they recommend in the field.

“All hands on deck! Teachers. Parents. Editors, Writers. Reviewers. Distributors. Bookstores. Literacy organizations. Youth organizations. All hands on deck!” – Wade Hudson

We Need Diverse Books NOW!

I’ll be spending the next few weeks reading and rereading this important round table discussion about diversifying children’s literature, hosted by the PEN Equity Project. Here are some thoughts from the participants to get you started. Link to full article here.

“I didn’t need to read a book to understand that I should be worried about my position in America. But I did need books to neutralize the feeling.” –Fatima Shaik

“I acquired what I now think of as the cheerful privilege of the white reader—the belief that all books existed purely for my enjoyment, with the easy pleasure of reading and judging them based on emotional reaction rather than representation.” – Cheryl Klein

“I remember how angry I was…when I was first exposed to Black writers such as Richard Wright, Gwendolyn Brooks, Ralph Ellison, and Langston Hughes. I should have known about these important cultural carriers and witnesses [before college].” – Wade Hudson

“That journey of loss and recovery—a kind of reclamation which was both emotional and political—is something I carry with me every day I sit down to write and as I move through the publishing world. It informs my outspokenness, my determination to bring radical change to an industry that remains entrenched in a very particular white cultural mindset toward the creation of literature.” – Daniel José Older

“As our nation continues to become even more diverse and the world becomes even more interconnected, what we write just might help children embrace this diversity so that as they become older, they can become informed, responsible, and active citizens in our democracy, and participants in the larger world in which we live.”  – Robie Harris

“There’s something that’s so magical and important about seeing yourself in a more specific way, whether it be race, or religion, or sexual orientation, or geography, or socioeconomic background, or disability, especially when you don’t often/ever see yourself represented anywhere else.” – Alvina Ling

“My question to you and to all those reading this discussion: What does it mean to be courageous in this time of change?”  – Daniel José Older

 

Windows and Mirrors Book Review: The Lost Celt

© 2016, Logo by L. M. Quraishi

© 2016, Logo by L. M. Quraishi

“The Celt relaxes his fists. Something changes because his eyes aren’t fierce anymore. They’re a warm, bright blue like two penny-sized chunks of sky stuck in a face as weathered as our redwood deck, and he looks like he wants to cry.”

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The Lost Celt
, by A.E. ConranGosling Press, an imprint of Goosebottom Books, 2016

Fourth Graders Mikey and Kyler are convinced that they’ve seen a real live Celtic warrior transported to the present as part of a secret defense project. If they track him down, they’re sure to reveal the secrets of time-travel once and for all, and write the best Veteran’s Day report in the history of fourth grade while they’re at it. Instead, they discover a different secret: the invisible effects of war on veterans of all generations and their families and the transcendent power of friendship.

Read this book because of its complex exploration of what it means to be a warrior for young boys obsessed with “war games.” A. E. Conran, who grew up in England listening to the stories of older generations who lived through the World Wars on home soil, both honors the contribution warriors make to our world and also illuminates the burdens they bear on our behalf. Rich with family relationships across the generations, real with mixed-race families and absent parents, this book elevates the allure of a mystery (the cover is printed in Hardy Boys blue and yellow) with the diversity and depth of its world.

Writers will enjoy the way Conran perfectly crafts her middle grade voice. The central role of Mikey’s relationships—with his mom who requires that he “breathe toothpaste on her” to prove he’s brushed his teeth, and his Grandpa who makes him ”chocolate-spread sandwich[es] the size of [his] military history book”—ring true for a fourth grade boy still connected to his family but old enough to sneak out after dark for the adventure of a lifetime. Conran gets every detail of voice right, from Mikey’s gullibility to his desire to impress a kind teacher with his Veteran’s Day report to his confusion about a class bully.

Add this book to your collection because there are not many books for children on post-traumatic stress that tell soldiers’ stories with so much compassion and depth. Conran delivers a sensitive examination of this intergenerational and societal problem in a gripping adventure story.

Read more about debut author A. E. Conran here:

Buy the book here:

“It’s a hard battle to get back to normal.”

Time to Listen Tuesday: Relando Thompkins-Jones

Photo by durera_toujours, Creative Commons via Flickr

Photo by durera_toujours, Creative Commons via Flickr

Every once in a while I stumble on a blog so thought-provoking and essential that it renews my gratitude for the age of information in which we live. This article by Relando Thompkins-Jones from his blog Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian, perfectly continues the dialogue Ellen Oh and Libby Bray began, about how critical it is for each and every one of us to make space to listen to those less privileged than ourselves.

On Power & Privilege Denial, and “Hurt Feelings” in Social Justice Work

“Denying the power and privilege we hold can be a way of protecting ourselves from internalizing the reality and gravity of our active and passive participation in oppressive systems…”

“Instead of actively focusing on how we participate in oppression, responding defensively can be an attempt at manipulating marginalized people into making us feel better about ourselves and taking care of our feelings first before we’re able to listen; ultimately derailing any critical dialogue that would have taken place.”

“Feeling “attacked” or “hurt” in the moment from our place of privilege, whatever that may be, fails to compare to the everyday lived experiences of the people who are on the receiving end of the oppression we benefit from.”

Read on! Link to the full article here.

Windows and Mirrors Book Review: Watch the Sky

© 2016, Logo by L. M. Quraishi

© 2016, Logo by L. M. Quraishi

“Jory’s stepfather “was fickle with explanations. Sometimes he shared them. Sometimes he didn’t. But he had no problem giving orders, mostly camouflaged as suggestions.”

Watch the SkyWatch the Sky, by Kirsten Hubbard, Disney-Hyperion, 2015

“Remember: you can’t trust anyone but your family.” Caleb rescued Jory’s agoraphobic mom from an ugly confrontation in the restaurant where she was forced to work after his dad left them. For a while, Caleb offers a sense of safety to the entire family. But now that Jory’s in the fifth grade, he’s starting to doubt the direction of his stepdad’s leadership. Especially since the “signs” have initiated a secretive night-time schedule of digging for the entire family. Worried that the Officials will find out about the little sister he’s not supposed to have, confused about the friendship offered by his peers, Jory’s questions threaten the foundation of trust that has anchored his family for the last few years. But when he realizes what loyalty to his family will really mean, he’s faced with hard truths and new choices.

Read this book because the spare language leads straight into the characters’ inner lives, revealing their fears and doubts as well as their strengths and loyalties. Hubbard flawlessly filters the story through Jory’s ten-year old perspective, illuminating the world as he sees and understands it, creating page-turning tension as his awareness unfolds.

Add this book to your collection because “Jory’s family was a different kind of different.” Middle-grade children are busy building perspective on their families. Developing healthy boundaries depends on the kind of insight that Jory earns in his story; readers puzzling over their own family dynamics will learn from him.

Other books by Kirsten Hubbard include:

Trust. Jory tried to hang on to it—trust in one hand, son in the other–even after he glimpsed the chain saw.”

Time to Listen Tuesday: Daniel José Older

Photo by Philippe Gillotte, via Creative Commons

Photo by Philippe Gillotte, via Creative Commons

“Nuances of codeswitching, racial microaggressions, the emotional reality of surviving white supremacy, self-translation – these are all layers of the non-white experience that rarely make it into mainstream literature, even when the characters look like us.” – Daniel José Older

If you haven’t yet read Daniel José Older’s BuzzFeed article, Diversity is Not Enough: Race, Power, Publishing, here’s the link.

Some provocative thoughts:

“White supremacy in children’s literature,” Larrick writes, “will be abolished when authors, editors, publishers, and booksellers decide that they need not submit to bigots.” -Nancy Larrick

“Lack of racial diversity is a symptom. The underlying illness is institutional racism. It walks hand in hand with sexism, cissexism, homophobia, and classism.” -Daniel José Older

“Maybe the word hasn’t been invented yet – that thing beyond diversity.” Daniel José Older

Windows/Mirrors Book Review: A Thirst for Home

© 2016, Logo by L. M. Quraishi

© 2016, Logo by L. M. Quraishi

A Thirst for Home“Emaye cried, and her tears were like raindrops so precious that I tried to collect them with the scarf she gave me.”

A Thirst for Home, by Christine Ieronimo, illustrated by Eric Velasquez

Walker Books for Young Readers (Bloomsbury imprint), 2014

In a spare, lyrical and moving debut, Christine Ieronimo tells a story inspired by her newly adopted Ethiopian daughter, whom she discovered one morning drinking from a puddle in the driveway. With deep empathy, the author portrays the complex issues of international adoption through the story of water, which “connects us to everyone and everywhere.”

Read this book because Eric Velasquez’s illustrations convey grief, love, privation, doubt, connection and transformation with uplifting composition and color. From beginning to end, this story honors the place Alemitu/Eva’s birth mother will always have in her life, beautifully symbolized by a long, floating yellow scarf her Emaye gave her when they parted. Alemitu’s bond with her adoptive mother grows from introduction to feeling “safe again” in just one spread, which feels a bit fast and unrealistic, especially for the the older girl depicted. However, Eva carries her homeland with her as she experiences her new world—whenever she gets water from a faucet, carries a backpack of books to school, takes off her shoes because she misses her feet, or remembers her mother. Without portraying either the birth family or adoptive family as “better” or “worse,” the story emphasizes both families’ fierce commitment to the bright future of this child.

Writers will enjoy the gentle cycling of lyrical language and ideas, such as when the sun whispering “my name with its hot, sticky breath” early in the book becomes the wind whispering “my name with its crisp, cool sigh.” The magnificent structure of the book centers around a key metaphor that occurs on the third spread, when Alemitu looks at her reflection in the watering hole and imagines that it contains a secret passage to “the other side.” The story balances on the moment when Alemitu leaves Ethiopia with her adoptive mom to become Eva, and the meaning of her name changes from “world” to “life.” The images that come up in the first seven spreads, all set in Ethiopia—names, water sources, shimmering surfaces of water, strong feet, “the fierce lion” of hunger, bundles of wood and sleeping with a parent—all recur in the next seven spreads in her new setting, on the other side of the journey—creating a subtle and satisfying resonance for readers.

Add this book to your collection because Ieronimo as a writer and a mother (see interview here)  grapples with an adopted child’s loss and culture shock in a way that is both honest and hopeful, and Velasquez paints his characters with realism and heart.

Other books illustrated by Eric Velasquez include:

Beautiful Moon: A Child’s Prayer

Twice as Good: The Story of William Powell and Clearview

Touch the Sky: Alice Coachman, Olympic High Jumper

Written and illustrated by Eric Velasquez:

Grandma’s Gift

Grandma’s Records

Watch a video of the author’s experience visiting her daughter’s home village here.

“The water has connected my two worlds, and I know who I am.”

Time to Listen Tuesday

© Steven Shorrock via Flickr Creative Commons

© Steven Shorrock via Flickr Creative Commons

Privilege cannot be evaluated in terms of black and white. Privilege by nature is comparative and perceptual. It seems to be part of the human experience to struggle, yet there is a quantitative difference between the struggle to put food before our children or overcome a history of sexual abuse or live with the increased likelihood of attack or incarceration because of skin color…and the struggle to find a parking spot in the city, or host the in-laws for dinner, or get our work published. No matter what the struggle, no matter how privileged we are in this way or that, we seem to have the tendency to magnify our own obstacles, and overlook our advantages.

If you haven’t yet read Ellen Oh’s magnificent article Dear White Writers about defending/creating space for people of color to tell their own stories, go read it now. She voices important concerns about the role of writers privileged by their skin color/ethnic background in supporting and participating in the movement for diverse children’s literature.

According to Lee & Low’s Diversity Baseline Survey, a 2015 statistical analysis of diversity in publishing for children, the #WeNeedDiverseBooks train is still parked at the station. In the past, there wasn’t a train at all, and diverse books just had to walk themselves to the publisher and wait at the back door for a turn to get in. Then maybe there was an occasional train, but no posted schedule and not enough cars. Now we’ve got one line, just one train that leaves once a day, and everyone’s crowding to get on. Who gets a ticket for that train?

What we need to do is take over the train station. When all of us consumed with creating books for children are writing from an expanded perception of the ways our society privileges some over others, and our own roles in that system, we will need more trains. Old lines of thinking and publishing will become obsolete, and those trains will refurbished for a more just and equitable world.

How do we expand our perceptions? It’s not easy and it’s not comfortable. But that’s something we writers already know a lot about. We know how to play with ideas and challenge the absurd. We know how to fill our pens with agony and write toward healing, how to break open the fiction of any -ism to write toward the truth. And we know how to listen.

Time to Listen Tuesday is a new series dedicated to listening to the voices that are speaking out for diverse books for children.

Today’s featured author is Libba Bray, whose post In Support of Ellen Oh challenges us all to confront our own racism, to “do it right…as truth-tellers”, to be “better writers and better humans.” Thank you, Libba Bray, for inviting us to listen.

Listen here:

Image thanks to Steven Shorrock, Creative Commons license