Learning About Africa: Ebola and Everyone

I want to live in a country that understands Ebola. I want to live in a world that cares about those dying from this terrible disease in West Africa. Nobody should’ve had to watch me ride my bicycle out in the open as politicians fed the public false fears and misinformation. I want to live in an America that reaches out to aid workers as they return from West Africa and says, “We loved and stood by you when you were fighting this disease. We will love and stand by you now.”

Me too. From Kaci Hickox’s “Stop calling me ‘the Ebola nurse‘”.

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FILIJ: Mexico’s International Children’s Book Festival

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I am just back from participating in  FILIJ, Mexico’s International Fair of Children and Youth Books and I am just floored by the experience. Run by Conaculta, Mexico’s governmental agency for the arts, it is BEA, ALA, NCTE, and the National Book Festival all in one glorious ten day event with over 300,000 people attending.  You can get a taste in this photo gallery. They (this is translated by google so is probably not too great) wish:

to encourage the habit of reading among children and young people of Mexico; and bring together publishers, booksellers, distributors, librarians, teachers and specialists, in order to raise the quality and quantity of publications circulating in the Mexican market. Also aims to compare experiences, promote exchange with other countries and bring the public to national and international issues.

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The festival was a vibrant place of tents full of books to see and buy, entertainments such as rock concerts and puppet shows, and tons of children and people eagerly enjoying books and stories. Among the events for professionals are a National Meeting for Booksellers (and, yes, the photo is of Laura Vaccaro Seeger and Neal Porter who participated last year), a National Conference of Librarians, an International Seminar (for 600 participants:) on the Promotion of Reading, and 5 hour Master Classes on Writing and Illustration.  There were also school visits, all sorts of performances (just wandering around I saw a puppet show and a rock concert), and a huge area of workshops for children. You can get a taste of the magnitude of the festival by looking at this brochure that includes a map of the festival as well as a listing of all the publishers and a schedule of events.

Even before I got to the festival grounds I had an inkling that this was a big event for all, seeing this poster for it in the city center:

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And once at the fair grounds I just enjoyed the energy. I was there only on weekdays, but am told you can barely move on the weekends.

IMG_2127 (There were so many tents full of books! This may look empty, but it is not. Just liked the Peppa painting on this particular tent.)

IMG_2126(This was a rock concert.)

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(This was a lovely cafe, but I’m afraid the warm orange of the walls came out rather dark in this photo of mine. In the back you can see one of the delightful posters that were all around the place. I believe there was a contest to get the commission to do these posters.)

Outside the festival,  I did a presentation on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to an attentive group of fourth graders at the Colegio Heraldos de México. They had prepared for my visit by watching both the Disney and Tim Burton’s movies, prepared questions, and created drawings and other decorations for my visit. The children’s English was fabulous — they seemed to follow my presentation with ease and asked thoughtful and carefully constructed questions. At the end I was surprised when they all wanted me to sign copies of Alice in Wonderland, personal autograph books, and paper.  So I did so as Lewis Carroll’s proxy! And then they gave me gifts — mostly chocolate, but also a book, and an amazing folk art clay statue of the Virgin Mary. They had never had an author visit before so it was a very big deal. For me too! My thanks especially to the Mexican Macmillan folk (among them Renato Aranda and Mariana Mendia – - a fellow Alice fan ) who took care of everything beautifully.

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Afterwards we went to the Museo Frida Kahlo (La Casa Azul where I’d first been years ago) and then to a fabulous lunch on the Coyoacan Zocalo followed by ice cream. I was moved by the candles for the 43 slain students, one of the many observations and demonstrations I saw while in Mexico City.

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We were also in Coyoacan one of the nights for a lovely dinner with local authors and publishing folk. While walking about we stopped at the Centro Cultural Eleno Garro, a fabulous bookstore in an historic building with trees inside and flying lit books in the children’s section.

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My talk for the symposium, also on Alice, went very well. The 600 listeners were generous, attentive, and had some excellent questions. I had observed one of my fellow presenters, illustrator Serge Bloch, a few days before so was prepared for the experience of simultaneous translation, especially when the audience reacted a few beats late to anything amusing. This is a shot from the auditorium during Serge’s presentation which will give a taste of what mine looked like.

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 Over the week I was there I met so many interesting people (a complete list of speakers is here) and especially enjoyed chatting with Bart Moeyaert, Serge Bloch, and Gonzola Frasca. And then there were my fellow-native-English speakers, the Australian writer John Marsden with his wife Chris, and the UK Chicken House publisher (and Harry Potter editor)  Barry Cunningham.  We spent our final day together visiting Teotihuacan and followed by a lovely leisurely lunch that included ant eggs and crickets (at a restaurant with a lawn on one wall). Quite tasty, I should say though I admit found it hard to put aside my cultural squeamishness.

My great thanks to Conculta and Karen Coeman for inviting me (and to Betsy Bird for suggesting that I could do a good Lewis Carroll tribute). Karen Coeman is the person who put the whole thing together and did so splendidly with such poise no matter what. I last saw her when she showed up at 6 AM yesterday at our hotel to be sure we all made it off at various times to the airport without difficulty. She is a class act that Karen! Thanks to her team including the fabulous Diego Sanchez Moreno and Orly Rosales as well as that committed and helpful group of volunteers who took care of everything for us.

 

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A Bit More about the BBC Forthcoming Adaptation of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

How would you sum up the show for viewers who are unfamiliar with the novel?

“It’s like a Jane Austen period drama but with magic and amazing special effects. It’s set at the time of the Napoleonic wars, in a version of England where magic once existed, long ago, but has since died out.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is the story of how magic returns to England, and the two magicians that bring it back. And what goes wrong.”

From this interview with the writer of the forthcoming BBC adaptation.

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Africa is My Home: Children’s Africana Book Award Celebrations

I was so honored by the celebrations around this year’s Children’s Africana Book Awards (CABA). These began with a Meet and Greet dinner at the venerable Bus Boys and Poets (a place I’d always wanted to see) where I met so many wonderful people, among them Ifeoma Onyefulu, a former winner of the award whose books I’ve long admired.

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The following day I spoke to 4th graders at the fabulous Capital City Public Charter School under the auspices of An Open Book Foundation. Here’s the description of what they do on their website:

Founded by Dara La Porte and Heidi Powell, An Open Book Children’s Literacy Foundation was created to promote literacy among disadvantaged children and teens in the greater Washington, D.C. area by giving schools and students book and access to authors and illustrators. We excite children and teachers about reading and send every child home with a signed book.

It was a really wonderful experience. The children were eager, interested, and had wonderful questions. I was most moved by two children from El Salvador. I sign my books “Never forget your home” and one of these two children spoke with tremendous excitement of returning soon to her home of El Salvador while the other came around to tell me privately that he would not be returning to his home of El Salvador because “bad things had happened there.” I told him that his home should be wherever he felt safe and happy. It was an important reminder to me — someone who has, for different reasons, no childhood place to call home —  that home is not necessarily where you originated.

Here are some of the books beautifully displayed before they were given out to the children.

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Saturday morning I wandered the Mall for a bit, having not done so in many years. I wanted most of all to see the new Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial.

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And then there was the actual Children’s Africana Book Award Festival at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art. After being welcomed by the Curator of Education, Deborah Stokes, we were entertained by the marvelous dance and singing troupe, the Taratibu Youth Association. Harriet McGuire spoke about the Africa Book Project, a terrific initiative to get the award winning CABA books into the hands of African children. The amazing Brenda Randolph, president of Africa Access (which gives the award and who organized everything) spoke and board member Linda White gave the Read Africa Partner Awards.

Then we were given our awards. This was incredibly moving. Each book was beautifully introduced along with the creators who were there for the ceremony. (Not all of us were able to make it for one reason or another.) You can read more about all the winning books here. We were each given a beautiful certificate and then there was a lovely ceremony when we were draped with a kente-like cloth that had been woven by  the Ghanaian master weaver, Chapuchi Ahiagble.

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Here I am afterwards with fellow winners Agbotadua Togbi Kumassah, Anna Cottrell (translator and reteller of Once Upon a Time in Ghana: Traditional Stories Retold in English illustrated by Kwabena Poku ),  and A. G. Ford (illustrator of Desmond and the Very Mean Word written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Douglas Abrams). Mubina Hassanali Kirmani (author of Bundle of Secrets, Savita Returns Home, illustrated by Tony Siema) was also there. There were many documenting all the events with photos, video, and interviews and when they are done and posted I will provide links.

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(I just found this photo by Monica Utsey who was honored along with her lovely younger son)

My great thanks to all who made this such a special experience for me, especially the members of the CABA Awards Committee: Dr. Meena Khorana, Dr. Patricia Kuntz, Dr. Lesego Malepe, Dr. John Metlzer, Ms. Brenda Randolph, Dr. Anne Waliaula, and Dr. Vivian Yenika-Agbaw.

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His Dark Materials, the Television Series (Wishful thinking?)

The excellent news that Netflix is adapting Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events into a television series has me now dreaming that they or another forward-thinking company (HBO? BBC? Showtime?) will consider turning Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials into one. Please, please, please, please, please?

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Africa is My Home: Children’s Africana Book Awards Festival This Saturday

On Saturday November 8, 2014, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art (NMAA) in Washington, DC will host the 22nd annual Children’s Africana Book Awards (CABA).  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.

Children’s Africana Book Awards Festival
Join Us!   11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.
Saturday November 8, 2014
Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art
950 Independence Avenue, Southwest, Washington, DC 20560
Free and Open to the Public   Registration is Requested

Hope to see some of you there!

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Writing “Authentic” Historical Dialog

My reasons for looking at dialogue in a different way were mainly because I was heartily tired of reading what I have taken to calling the Berlitz phrase-book approach to dialogue and character-thought. In the phrase-book approach all language is modern, except when specific words are inserted. Sometimes words from entirely the wrong language are used: Modern French instead of Old or Middle French for the Middle Ages, for instance. Get me after a drink or two and I’ll tell you which writers in particular get their languages wrong, but otherwise I shall mutter their names to myself, unhappily.

That is from this fascinating blog post: “Dialogue in Novels — a Medieval Experiment by Gillian Polack.” For those interested in how to balance the historical real with the contemporary reality — that is what your intended reader will make of it —this is very good stuff.

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