I’m off to Boston tomorrow for the National Council of Teachers of English convention. With rare exceptions I’ve been attending yearly since I joined the organization way back in the 1990s. This year will be markedly different from all my previous times as I will be attending in a new and different capacity: as a trade book author. And so, in addition to attending sessions, visiting exhibits, and talking to like-minded educators as a teacher, I will also be attending events as an author. Hope to see some of you at these or elsewhere around the convention!
- Friday, November 22, 11-12:15 Inventing the Past: Historical Fiction Comes Alive with Teri Lesesne, M. T. Anderson, Rita Williams-Garcia, and Gene Yang. Hynes Convention Center, Hynes Convention Center/Room 204, Level Two.
- Friday, November 22, 1-2 Signing Africa is My Home. Candlewick Booth #703.
- Friday, November 22, 5-7 Great NCTE Kids/YA Lit Tweetup. Trident Booksellers and Café, 338 Newbery Street.
- Saturday, November 22, 12:30-2:3o Books for Children Luncheon.
One of my perpetual concerns is how we help children understand the complicated interrelated ways of wildlife and people, especially when it comes to endangered animals. My longtime experience in a school is that too often animals in places where lives are significantly different from those of my students are attended to at the expense of the people. That is, I fear that they will inadvertently develop a negative view of the people native to an area where animals are in danger rather than develop a deeper understanding of the complexities of the situation. So what a delight to read Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore’s Parrots over Puerto Rico where the intertwined histories of animals and people are thoughtfully, intelligently, and beautifully presented.
To begin with there were the birds — striking green and blue parrots with the distinctive flight call, “Iguaca! Iguaca!” There were evidently hundreds of thousands of them all over Puerto Rico when people started to arrive around 500 BCE. Among them were the Taino people who hunted the parrots and kept them as pets. After Christopher Columbus’s “claiming” of the island for Spain in 1493 the island became full of Spanish settlers and a century later enslaved Africans were brought there to work the sugarcane. These new arrivals also brought new life with them: ships’ rats and honeybees that managed to get to the parrots’ nesting holes and attack their eggs. Others needed timber and so the forests where the parrots lived were cut down. And even as their homes were in peril, so were the birds themselves as people continued to hunt them and keep them as pets.
For the first half of the book, Roth and Trumbore do a splendid job providing young readers with a history of the island, intertwining the birds’ history with its human inhabitants along the way. In the second part they indicate the awareness by Puerto Ricans that the birds are almost gone and then their efforts to bring them back. The book ends with a very informative afterward with photos as well as a timeline and a list of sources. Their research appears to be impeccable.
Of course, it must be said, that what brings this book to a level I might term “awesome”are Susan L. Roth’s remarkable paper-and-fabric collages. Elegantly designed, the book’s vertical orientation allows for her spectacular double page spreads throughout, increasing the sense of the birds’ habitats and movement as well as the way humans affect them.
I can’t say much more than that this is a fantastic book — I recommend it highly.
Poking around Netgalley not long ago, I came across Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy and, intrigued by the description, began reading and was quickly hooked. It is a lovely, moody contemporary reworking of Andersen’s “The Snow Queen” set in a museum, no less. I find books set in museum to be tricky things — sometimes the setting seems more important than the rest of it. Fortunately, in this case, it totally works. Our heroine, Ophelia, has arrived in the never-identified city with her older sister while their father works on a blockbuster exhibit of swords. They are all mourning the loss of the family’s mother in their own ways: the father throws himself into work, the older sister becomes eagerly distracted by the exhibit’s fashionable female curator, and Ophelia gloomily wanders the museum, counting the days and hours since her mother’s death. In her wanderings she comes across the Marvelous Boy of the title and so her adventure begins. Ophelia is a winning heroine as she fights fear to do what needs to be done (just…you know..saving the world and stuff), the Boy sad and stalwart (his own back story meanders through the larger story taking place in the museum), the writing elegant, and the plot compelling. There are creepy creatures, ghosts, a deliciously evil villain, magical things, and plenty more to keep middle grade readers engrossed.
Recently the publisher sent me a print ARC along with a key and a tiny tube of super glue (a particularly clever if — for those who haven’t yet read the book — enigmatic touch), all of which made me smile.
Yesterday I had a splendid time speaking and signing at an event organized by the Farmington Historical Society and the First Church. It was held in the church’s Amistad Hall and the attendees were so well-informed about the Amistad affair and Sierra Leone that it was very special experience indeed. My great thanks to all those who organized this so beautifully.
Speaking with an attendee who was originally from Sierra Leone.
They brought a Mende Bunde Mask that looks very similar to the one on the cover of the book and a footwarmer that might have been used in the church when Margru was there.
Before and after the event my friend and I revisited some of the Amistad sights we’d seen during our previous research visit so many years ago and finally found the grave of Fone, one of the Amistad captives who died during their time in Farmington.
So cool to see Africa is My Home in an Africa Bookshelf in this week’s NYTBR complete with slide show. Even cooler to be there along with the latest Anna Hibiscus and some other very beautiful books.
After the Amistad captives won their case and were freed, they had a long wait until sufficient funds were raised for a ship to take them back to Africa. Happily, there were people in Farmington, CT, who took them in. As part of my research for Africa is My Home I visited Farmington and I’m thrilled to be returning to speak and sign books this Sunday. The details are all here.
Now, of course, “best of all time” is hyperbole, but EW realizes that and still is going forward with their bracket game, pitting 64 titles against each other for the “best of all time” title. Now I tend to get my back up the minute I see another list, but I have to say this is a good one. The titles are mostly recognizably YA (the main one I’d argue with is Hugo Cabret as I see it as solidly juvenile and there are a few that were originally published for adults) and a great bunch indeed. And since I too run a yearly bracket contest I am all for them. They are fun ways to highlight a whole bunch of books, some of which those participating may have forgotten, overlooked, or just not known about until then. I just voted in their first round and, boy oh boy, were some hard to decide. In some cases, it was problematic as I haven’t read all the contenders and sometimes voted unfairly for the one of the pair I had. I didn’t vote when I hadn’t read either book, tempted though I was to go for the one that I’d heard better things about. But this sort of thing is basically random and fun — that is true for the BoB as well. It gets the word out, gets folks looking at books they didn’t know about, and is all good, to my mind. Well done, EW! I’m on tenterhooks to see what titles advance to round two!