March is Women’s History Month! It’s never a bad time to learn about the contributions that women have made and continue to make. In honor of Women’s History Month, we’ve put together a list that features some of our favorite historical ladies and great fiction for children and older readers!
Over the weekend (Feb. 7), I taught a breakout session at the Annual Winter Conference of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators here in New York, NY. We were discussing how to write for a diverse audience. My main focus was on helping the audience to remember that no matter what you’re writing, your audience will always be diverse. Too often, writers think that there’s a dichotomy–that there are “multicultural books” that are read by kids of color, and that “everyone else” (meaning, white kids) read “mainstream” (meaning, white) books.
This just isn’t the case. Readers tend to read widely, and kids of color are just like their white peers, reading the most popular books, the books assigned to them in schools, and whatever else they happen to come across that sounds interesting to them. Continue reading
A new year means a new chance to get to all the things you didn’t get to last year. And by “things,” what we really mean is BOOKS. We also know that reading diversely doesn’t happen by accident; it takes a concerted effort to read a wide range of books.
So, we thought we’d help on both counts by offering up a list of the diverse authors we’re resolving to read in 2015. Some are new, and some have just been on our list for years. This is the year we plan to get to them – perhaps this will be your year, too?
Ink and Ashes by Valynne E. Maetani is Tu Books’ first New Visions Award winner. Seventeen-year-old Claire Takata discovers a secret about her deceased father that should have remained a secret.
The New Visions Award, modeled after LEE & LOW’s successful New Voices Award, is for unpublished writers of color who write science-fiction, fantasy, and mystery YA or middle grade novels.
Ink and Ashes is set to be released Spring 2015!
Ten years before the events in Killer of Enemies, before the Silver Cloud, the Lakota were forced to work in the Deeps, mining for ore so that the Ones, the overlords, could continue their wars. But when the Cloud came and enveloped Earth, all electronics were shut off. Some miners were trapped in the deepest Deeps and suffocated, but the Lakota were warned to escape, and the upper Deeps became a place of refuge for them in a post-Cloud world. Continue reading
November is Native American Heritage Month! Native American Heritage Month evolved from the efforts of various individuals at the turn of the 20th century who tried to get a day of recognition for Native Americans. In 1990, President George H.W. Bush approved a resolution that appointed November as Native American Heritage Month. You can learn more about Native American Heritage Month here.
For many years, Native people were silenced and their stories were set aside, hidden, or drowned out. That’s why it’s especially important to read stories about Native characters, told in Native voices. Celebrate Native American Heritage Month with these great books by Native writers: Continue reading
Halloween is right around the corner. There’s no better way to celebrate than by reading books that will scare you to pieces! Here’s a lucky thirteen list of our favorites (all featuring diverse characters or by diverse authors):
- Half World by Hiromi Goto – Melanie Tamaki lives with her mother in abject poverty. Then, her mother disappears. Melanie must journey to the mysterious Half World to save her.
- Vodnik by Bryce Moore – Sixteen-year-old Tomas moves back to Slovakia with his family and discovers the folktales of his childhood were more than just stories.
In this series, Tu Books Publisher Stacy Whitman shares advice for aspiring authors, especially those considering submitting to our New Visions Award.
Last week on the blog, I talked about the importance of following submission guidelines and basic manuscript format. This week, I wanted to go into more detail about why a reader might stop reading if they’re not hooked right away. Here are some comments I’ve heard our readers make about manuscripts that didn’t hook them:
- Story does not captivate in first few chapters
- Writing not strong, or not strong enough to hold a young reader’s (or teen’s) interest
- Parts of the writing are very strange (not in a good way)
- Sounded too artificial
- Reminds me too much of something that’s really popular
- Too Tolkienesque or reliant upon Western European fantasy tropes
- Concept cliche
How do you get your writing to have that “zing” that captivates from the very beginning? This is a little tougher than just following the directions—this is much more personal to each reader and each writer.
Is your writing boring readers?
There are a couple different issues in the list above. Some readers lost interest simply because they were bored. If you find yourself telling readers of your book, “Don’t worry! It gets really good in chapter five!” consider whether you’re starting your book at the right moment in time. The phrase “late in, early out” is one to remember—perhaps you don’t need all the information that leads to the “really good” part. Or perhaps you need to revise to make that information more interesting and faster paced.
I don’t recommend simply dumping this information into a prologue. Many young readers skip prologues entirely, and many more readers will lose interest if your prologue is long and boring—it’s the same principle as saying “just wait till chapter five!”
Stacy Whitman is Editorial Director and Publisher of Tu Books, an imprint of LEE & LOW BOOKS that publishes diverse science fiction and fantasy for middle grade and young adult readers. Parts of this blog post were originally posted at her blog, Stacy Whitman’s Grimoire.
Last week, I discussed why worldbuilding in speculative fiction can be so challenging for authors. How do we introduce a completely new world without infodumping or confusing readers? I gave some examples of worldbuilding done well in popular YA science fiction and fantasy: The Hunger Games, Divergent, and Twilight. In all these cases, the starting point is in some way relatable, or there is something about the character (Tris, Katniss) that hooks the reader. First pages should be character- and plot-driven, and worldbuilding should support rather than dominate. That gives these books an easy entry point and wide appeal.
There are three primary approaches to worldbuilding:
Reader learns world alongside character
Readers of Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, and Twilight figure out the world alongside the main character. Information is spooled out as the character learns it, so the reader doesn’t have to absorb everything at once. This is a low bar for entry, not requiring much synthesis of information. The character is almost a stand-in for the reader.
Exposition: questions raised, then answered
What about Hunger Games? Now it gets a little tougher. Suzanne Collins starts out with a perfectly relatable (if a tiny bit cliche) situation, the main character waking up and seeing her family. We get some exposition on Katniss’s family and the cat who hates her.
But it becomes non-cliche by page 2, when we learn about the Reaping. Ah! What’s the Reaping, you ask? We don’t know yet. Now the bar for entry is raised. There is a question, the answer for which you’re going to have to read further to find out. The infodumpage level is low, but there is still some exposition in the next few pages, letting us know that Katniss lives in a place called District 12, nicknamed the Seam, and that her town is enclosed by a fence that is sometimes electrified—and which is supposed to be electrified all the time.
There has been a lot of controversy this week surrounding that now-infamous Slate article saying that adults should be embarrassed to read YA. Here at LEE & LOW, we couldn’t disagree more. We don’t think your enjoyment of a book should be limited by your age (or anything at all, really). YA novels are great. They can be entertaining, literary, thought-provoking, funny, sad, or all of the above at the same time.
There have been several excellent lists of YA recommendations floating around this week, so we thought we’d add our own. Here is a list (a diverse list, of course!) of YA novels that made us think, featuring some great books from LEE & LOW and some of our favorites from other publishers:
1. Summer of the Mariposas by Guadalupe Garcia McCall (Tu Books)
When Odilia and her four sisters find a dead body in the swimming hole, they embark on a hero’s journey to return the dead man to his family in Mexico. But returning home to Texas turns into an odyssey that would rival Homer’s original tale.
2. How the Garcia Girls Lost their Accents by Julia Alvarez (Algonquin Books)
Uprooted from their family home in the Dominican Republic, the four Garcia sisters – Carla, Sandra, Yolanda, and Sofia – arrive in New York City in 1960 to find a life far different from the genteel existence of maids, manicures, and extended family they left behind.
3. Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall (Lee & Low Books)
As the oldest of eight siblings, Lupita is used to taking the lead—and staying busy behind the scenes to help keep everyone together. But when she discovers Mami has been diagnosed with cancer, Lupita is terrified by the possibility of losing her mother, the anchor of her close-knit Mexican American family.