Posts Tagged representation

Under the Mike-roscope: Sisters of the Neversea by Cynthia Leitich Smith

If I were a book reviewer, I’d be the world’s worst book reviewer. Honestly, I stink at it. That said, I’m not a book reviewer; I’m a microbiologist. A scientist. I like to read and write middle-grade books not only for enjoyment but study them and learn from them as well. 

  • What techniques and skills do the author incorporate into their work?
  • What kept me turning pages?
  • Why did I forget to do my chores when reading this book?

And any additional questions as to why a book takes over my brain.

Today, I’m sharing Sisters of the Neverseas by Cynthia Leitich Smith, a book that has taken over my brain.

I’ll spare you my version of a summary of the book because it’ll sound a lot like my almost 4-year-old grandson describing the fireworks display on the Fourth of July. All over the place and delivered with terrific, over-the-top, and breathless enthusiasm. Instead, I’ll sum up my take on Sisters of the Neversea in three words.  

READ THIS BOOK!

As a fan of Cynthia Leitich Smith’s work, I admit I had high expectations for Sisters of the Neversea. It was on my reader radar for quite a while before its release. When I finally got my hands on a copy and read it, it did not disappoint. If fact, I’m currently listening to the audiobook immediately following a listen of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. 

One of the many things that blew my socks off with Sisters of the Neversea is in the Author’s Note at the end of the book. Being a middle-grade writer with an interest in how authors put together their books, I’ll often read the author’s notes or acknowledgments before I read the book. This time I was so stoked to start reading, that the thought to read anything but the book itself never crossed my mind. When I finished and read the Author’s Note, here’s that bit that caught my eye and hooked my storyteller radar.

“One of the most interesting and powerful things about Story is that it invites future storytellers to build on it, to reinvent, and to talk back. Like any other kind of magic, stories can harm or offer hope, even healing.”  

                                             – Cynthia Leitich Smith, Sisters of the Neversea Author’s Note

That’s money. Bulletin board material to post above the writing desk. I’m still bouncing it around in my brain.

Sisters of the Neversea is a masterclass on reinventing a classic story, especially a classic wrought with questionable representation. Cynthia Leitich Smith tells a better story than the traditional Peter Pan story. She expands the story world, and its characters, adding depth to both. The setting of Neverland itself becomes a player in the tale. Best of all, she “talks back” to the original work in a way that’s believable and imaginative.

She doesn’t hide, bury, or run from the questionable representation of the original. She addressed it and attacks it head-on. Her answer to the “redskins” and “injuns” and to the role of girls and women in Barrie’s creation, is to create fully-fleshed Native characters from different Nations and backgrounds and strong female characters throughout. 

She seamlessly weaves the reinvented narrative into the existing framework of Barrie’s work. It has this amazing way of feeling like Barrie’s original Peter Pan yet tells its own unique and contemporary story.  

One of the parts of Sisters of the Neversea I particularly enjoyed was the family dynamic. The weight and burden of the blended Roberts-Darling family’s problems seem insurmountable to Lily and Wendy. This leads to a lot of anger between them and a growing rift. Their home in Oklahoma, their parent’s marriage, and their future as sisters are all on the line. 

However, when they get separated and enter Neverland, Lily and Wendy begin to see each other and their family’s problems in a new light. By taking a step back from the day-to-day struggles at home, the step-sisters realize their problems, no matter how large, can be dealt with as a family. Talk about story magic bringing hope and healing!

Good literature makes the world a little brighter. Great literature transforms it. With Sisters of the Neversea, Cynthia Leitich Smith completely transforms the world we’ve come to associate with Peter Pan and Neverland with luminosity and truth. Under her skilled hand, the Neverland story becomes something entirely different. Something better. Much, much better.

I hope the Sister of the Neversea finds its way into the hands of young readers. I also hope it sparks them to read Barrie’s original and realize the attitudes and mindsets of yesteryear don’t have to be the attitudes and mindsets of today. Things can, and should, change as knowledge changes.

Finally, I can’t wind up this look at Sisters of the Neversea without admitting there’s a wide smile on my face. No, it’s not the amazing cover art by the late Floyd Cooper.* The smile is because I ran across a recent social media post from Cynthia about how she’s drafting a new middle-grade novel. This makes me happy for young readers. The potential for a new, transformative Cynthia Leitich Smith book has this reader on Cloud Nine.

*Judge a book by its cover, please! Floyd Cooper’s artwork captures the characters and the story in perfect fashion. No need for Peter Pan here! Lily, Wendy, and Michael beckon you to the adventure. Come on in for the ride, my friends! We are going to miss Floyd Cooper.

Note: In case you can’t tell,  I am a fan of Cynthia Leitich Smith. In the work she does on the page. In the work she does with and for the Native writing community. In the work she does for the We Need Diverse Books community and leading the Heartdrum Imprint at Harper Collins. She is a force in the kidlit industry while being one of the nicest people in the business. (Perhaps the most remarkable example of how skilled she is as a writer is the fact she had me riveted to her Tantalize YA vampire series back before I was even aware of her other work. Me! Reading YA vampire fantasy! Now that’s writing talent!)

WNDMG Wednesday- Guest Post – Waka T. Brown

We Need Diverse MG Logo hands holding reading globe with stars and spirals floating around
We Need Diverse MG Logo hands holding reading globe with stars and spirals floating around

Illustration by: Aixa Perez-Prado

WNDMG Wednesday Guest – Author Waka T. Brown

We at WNDMG Wednesday are thrilled to host our guest post writer, author Waka T. Brown. Waka’s piece in honor of AAPI Heritage Month is a spot-on look at the importance of representation in middle-grade books, and we’re so grateful she took the time to stop by our blog.

Author Waka T. Brown–My Journey

Happy Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, everyone! I’m honored to write a blog post this month for “From the Mixed-Up Files… of Middle-Grade Authors.”

With two middle grade novels which prominently feature Asian American main characters under my belt (and two more under contract), I’d like to take this opportunity to reflect and share what my journey as an Asian American author has been like thus far.

Being Sabrina Duncan

I’m curious how many Asian American children of the 70s and 80s are out there who remember “Charlie’s Angels.” Not the 2019 reboot with Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, and Ella Balinska. Not even the 2000 one with Drew Barrymore, Lucy Liu, and Cameron Diaz. I’m talking about the one with Farrah Fawcett, Jaclyn Smith, and Kate Jackson. Way back when, my friends and I sometimes played like we were the Angels—fighting crime and beating up the bad guys. I always played the character of Sabrina Duncan because… she had the darkest hair of the trio. Like me.

Television star Kate Jackson white woman with short black hair wearing red shirt

It Felt Presumptuous

I grew up reading and loving books by Madeleine L’Engle, Lois Duncan, Beverly Cleary, L.M. Montgomery, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Louisa May Alcott, Laura Ingalls Wilder (just to name a few). I might not have looked like any of their main characters, but I identified with the spunky, smart, and resourceful girls featured in almost all their stories.

Book Cover for Little Women 4 white women wearing 19th century dresses seated together on a couch

I never once thought about what it might mean to read a book with girls on the cover who looked like me. I didn’t even know that it was an option. It felt presumptuous to even want that. After all, until I left home for college, I only knew fewer than a dozen Asian Americans outside of my family. I assumed there weren’t many of us at all, and TV, films, books all seemed to support what I assumed was true.

Looking for Meaningful, Positive Representation

So, what does it mean to grow up without meaningful, positive representation? When I was a teenager, beautiful equaled Christy Brinkley. When kids told me I was ugly, part of me wondered if they had a point. After all, I never saw models like me gracing the covers of Seventeen. When I never encountered stories about people like me, I internalized that maybe our stories don’t matter.

Magazine Cover Seventeen Magazine actor Brook Shields on cover

However, when I arrived in California for college for the first time when I was 18, it was with a bit (a lot) of culture shock that I realized I was not alone. I had never experienced a diverse environment like that one before. I joined the Asian American Student Association. I met Chinese, Taiwanese, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, Filipina, and South Asian friends. During study breaks we watched episodes of “Beverly Hills 90210,” and I wondered to myself where all the Asian people were. It took place in California, after all, and what I saw represented in media didn’t look anything like the diversity that now surrounded me.

“Asian Leads Don’t Sell”

Yet, when I started writing (screenplays mostly), my characters still didn’t look like me. “Imagine a bankable star,” I was advised when I created my characters. I wrote shallow, frothy romcoms that I thought would have mass appeal. When nothing came of them, I decided to throw previous advice out the window and wrote a teenage Roman Holiday-esque story… with two Asian leads. I would like to say this is when my big break came, but alas no. I was only able to get one person in the industry to even read it because, “Asian leads don’t sell.” Maybe at the time people truly believed that. But part of me thought (like my character Annie in Dream, Annie, Dream), How do you get to be a big name/bankable star if you’re never cast? After a disappointing reception to my attempt to create some Asian American representation, I went back to writing my standard fare for a while… but then again, I decided on a project, a far-fetched project. A memoir about 12 year-old me called While I Was Away.

Book Cover for While I was Away - profile sketch of an Asian girl with a small village in the background

Waka T Brown at 12 years old, photo of young Japanese girl in plaid shirt

Waka T. Brown at age 12

Even though a lot of people were dismissive of this endeavor and echoed my own concerns such as “Memoir? And middle grade? Good luck, that’s gonna be a tough sell,” and “you need to have an established platform to sell something like that,” I wrote it anyway. No one bought my more “commercial” writing, so why not? I wanted to get the memories down before they faded for myself. For every negative remark, there were also encouraging ones, like “You should definitely write that story” and “That is the story only you can write.” And those were the ones I hung on to.

((Like reading memoirs and ready to find more? Read this Rosanne Parry’s roundup of Diverse MG Memoirs))

Plus, there were other promising signs urging me not to give up. Crazy Rich Asians was a box office smash. Bookstore shelves looked a lot different from when I was a little girl. I caught up on years of reading, including works by Grace Lin and Kelly Yang. And despite a number of rejections that pointed toward my story’s lack of marketability and/or relatability with a wider audience, While I Was Away eventually sold at auction in a 2-book deal.

movie poster for movie "Crazy, Rich Asians"

How people have embraced my first book since its publication in January 2021 has truly blown me away. It was an Oregon Book Award finalist, one of New York Public Library’s Best Books for Kids of 2021, a Bank Street Children’s Best Book of the Year for 2022…

Dream, Annie, Dream

But, I definitely feel my work as a writer isn’t finished. With my second book, Dream, Annie, Dream, I tackle the issue of representation head-on. Even though it’s a work of fiction, many of the experiences were drawn from my own. Although some of the topics and incidents in it might feel uncomfortable, it is my hope that young readers are drawn to my main character Annie Inoue like I was drawn to Sara Crew, Laura Ingalls, Anne Shirley, and Jo March.

Book Cover for Dream Annie Dream, young Asian girl with basketball and books and pencil as "dreams" floating around her head

They’ve Needed This Story for Decades

While I truly feel my books are for everyone (even teenaged sons who have yet to read their mother’s second book… cough, cough… you know how you are), I appreciate that what each reader gains from them is their own. Some readers have let me know how they related to certain incidents. Some have mentioned that they just enjoyed the story. But the ones that I hold the most dear have been the ones who tell me that they’ve needed this story for decades.

For me personally, representation has come a long way from “the dark-haired Charlie’s Angel” to these two books.

Book Cover for Dream Annie Dream, young Asian girl with basketball and books and pencil as "dreams" floating around her headBook Cover for While I was Away - profile sketch of an Asian girl with a small village in the background

It’s my sincere hope that more stories, diverse stories, stories about events we’ve never heard of continue to surface. And that as readers, we continue to embrace them all with open hearts and minds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Headshot author Waka T. Brown - Asian woman seated on couch, smiling

Waka is a Stanford graduate with a B.A. in International Relations and a Master’s in Secondary Education. While I Was Away (Quill Tree/HarperCollins 2021) is her debut novel.

Dream, Annie, Dream (Quill Tree/HarperCollins 2022) is her first work of historical fiction.

More About Waka T. Brown

In addition to writing middle-grade stories, I enjoy writing screenplays. I wrote and co-directed the short film Double Tap (Official Selection, 2018 DC Shorts and Portland Film Festivals) and my feature-length screenplays (comedies, romcoms, & animated features) have been 2nd-rounders at AFF, placed in the semifinals of PAGE, and quarterfinals of Screencraft writing competitions.

I’m currently an online instructor with the Stanford Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education (SPICE). I teach about U.S.-Japan relations to high school students in Japan, and have also authored curriculum on several international topics. Recently, I was honored to receive the U.S.-Japan Foundation and EngageAsia’s national 2019 Elgin Heinz Outstanding Teacher award.

I live in the Portland, Oregon area with my husband, three sons, and my naughty yet lovable shiba Niko. I have a lot of hobbies such as running, art, baking, and playing guitar.

Connect with Waka:

Twitter

Instagram

Website

 

Latinx Kidlit Book Festival 2021

LKBF invite

It’s almost time for  second annual The Latinx Kidlit Book Festival, a virtual celebration of Latinx KidLit authors, illustrators, and books. The festival will open its virtual doors this year from December 9-10, 2021. There festival features two free days of panels, craft sessions and illustrator draw-offs with Latinx authors and illustrators of picture books, middle grade, young adult, graphic novel, comic books and poetry. The sessions are geared towards ALL schools, educators, students and book lovers, not just those identifying as Latinx.  Everyone is welcome at this virtual festival that celebrates diversity in children’s literature and brings books and ideas straight into classrooms.

I had the opportunity to talk to two of the festival’s organisers, Ismee Williams and Alex Villasante, who shared more information about the events and opportunities for kids, teachers, and readers everywhere.

Giving Back

APP: Thank you so much for sharing this festival with us. Can you tell me a little about how the Latinx Kidlit Book Festival started?

lkbf fb 2ISMEE: In 2020, we were concerned about the effects of the pandemic on students and teachers. We wanted to give back, the best way we know how. Through the power of story. The LKBF was conceived to bring authors and illustrators into classrooms of schools everywhere. Not just schools with Latinx communities. All schools. All students. From pre-K through 12th grade and beyond. There will be something for everyone. 

APP: What a great idea! I know how much I enjoyed participating in the festival last year, and sharing it with my homeschoolers. What’s new this year?

ISMEE: In early 2021, we met with members of the NCTE to brainstorm new ideas. More interactive and engaging programming was high on the list. Craft sessions to help teachers teach. More content en Español, perfect for ESL as well as Spanish foreign language classes. We also added content for teachers and for would-be writers. The Author’s Guild is sponsoring a panel for aspiring writers. From Manuscript to Marketplace: Three Publishing Journeys in Kidlit with authors, editors and agents – on Tuesday, December 7th.

On December 8th, Penguin Random House is sponsoring a special Educator Night. Lorena German and David Bowles will talk about #DisruptTexts. Join us to learn how to bring Latinx books into classrooms.

Interactive Programming

APP: What a great opportunity for teachers and everyone interested in diversifying readings for children. I’m especially interested in the interactive programming you mentioned, what exactly does that entail?virtual field trip

ALEX: We want the LKBF to be a virtual field trip for students and educators. We expanded programming to amp the fun and engagement. We have five new craft sessions. Best-selling authors will teach how-to classes on writing, perfect for students. Meg Medina (award-winning author of Merci Suarez Changes Gears) will teach how to write from your own life experiences. That session is for grades 4 – 8, perfect for middle schoolers.

We also have a craft session on creating a picture book with Emma Otheguy, Rene Colato Lainez and Juana Medina. We have one on writing poetry with Margarita Engle. Students should come to these sessions with paper and writing utensils and be ready to have fun! We’ve also got Draw Off sessions. Illustrators compete, responding to prompts submitted by the students. Kids get to see the crazy-creations they suggest come to life! These sessions are interactive and will get students (and teachers) hooked!

APP: Sounds so fun! How can educators, parents and kids get ready to get the most out of the festival?

ALEX: Teachers, librarians and parents should check out the offerings on our educator page. We have author/illustrator introduction Flipgrid videos and educator guides to help students prepare for and engage with the festival. We have mini craft video lessons, meant to act as writing prompts. And a book database to help you find the perfect book for the perfect student. And we want to hear from students directly! Submit student questions for a chance to win a classroom set of books. Ask any book-related question you want. Maybe one of our authors or illustrators will answer it LIVE during the festival!

Middle Grade Panels

APP: As a member of a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee, I know how important this opportunity is for educators, authors, and kids and can’t wait to attend! Can you tell us a bit about the Middle Grade books and authors you’ll be spotlighting for our MUF readers? mg panel 1

ISMEE: We have so many wonderful MG authors this year! Karla Valenti (Lotería) is moderating Middle And Marvelous: Middle Grade Characters Who Will Steal Your Heart. Karla will be joined by Laura Ojeda Melchor (MISSING OKALEE), Alex Aster (CURSE OF THE FORGOTTEN CITY), Alejandra Algorta (NEVERFORGOTTEN) and Christina Diaz Gonzalez (CONCEALED). Loriel Ryon (INTO THE TALL TALL GRASS) is moderating ¡Qué Cómicos!: Humor In Chapter Books And Middle Grade. Terry Catasús Jennings (ALL FOR ONE), Adrianna Cuevas (THE TOTAL ECLIPSE OF NESTOR LOPEZ), Donna Barba Higuera (LUPE WONG WON’T DANCE/THE LAST CUENTISTA), and Nina Moreno (JOIN THE CLUB, MAGGIE DIAZ) will join Loriel. And don’t miss our opening headlining session! Books As Teachers: Stories That Build Connection, Empathy And Imagination with educatorS Torrey Maldonado (WHAT LANE?/TIGHT) and Rebecca Balcárcel (THE OTHER HALF OF HAPPY/SHINE ON, LUZ VÉLIZ). mg panel 2

The More You Know

APP: Where can people go to get more information about the festival?

ALEX:

Want to know how best to watch the festival? Sign up for our newsletter. Links to panels will arrive directly to your inbox. The festival can be streamed live into the classroom from our YouTube channel. Students and teachers can interact with authors and illustrators via the live chat. Content will be available even after the premiere. 

Educators, don’t forget to check out our Wed night event just for you! The content will be perfect for DEI professional advancement. There will be a digital gift bag! And a certificate of attendance will be available.

APP: Wonderful! So many interesting speakers to choose from and panels to interact with! Thank you for sharing this with us and I hope that many of our readers will participate in the Latinx Kidlit Book Festival this year, I know I will!

Giveaways!

And now for giveaways! Three of the amazing MG authors that will be featured at the Latinx Kidlit Book Festival have generously agreed to give away copies of their books to our MUF readers! There will be six lucky winners for one of the following prizes!

THE LAST CUENTISTA by Donna Barba Higuera

LUPE WONG WON’T DANCE by Donna Barba Higuera

EL CUCUY IS SCARED TOO by Donna Barba Higuera

TOTAL ECLIPSE OF NESTOR LOPEZ by Adrianna Cuevas (signed)

MIOSOTIS FLORES NEVER FORGETS by Hilda E. Burgos (signed)

ANA MARIA REYES DOES NOT LIVE IN A CASTLE by Hilda E. Burgos (signed)

To enter just follow the rafflecopter below, retweet/quote tweet this post, and follow @MixedUpFiles. U.S. entries only please!

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