The Spellbinders crew is honored to present our interview with acclaimed children's author, Linda Sue Park. Linda Sue, the daughter of Korean immigrants, hails from the Chicago area. She's also lived in Dublin and London and now shares her upstate New York home with her husband, two children, and a dog. Her first publication, when she was nine, was a haiku for which she earned the grand sum of one dollar. But that hooked her, and she's been writing voluminously ever since. A Single Shard, her novel of twelfth century Korea, captured the coveted Newbery Medal in 2002. We asked Linda Sue about her work and her thoughts on the Newbery ...
1. Linda Sue, how does your ethnic background affect your choice of subject matter? How do you make your stories that are steeped in ethnic, even exotic, backgrounds, rise to universal appeal and relevance for young American readers who have no experience beyond their own? And finally, do you think a writer can create authentic stories about a culture of which s/he is not a member?
LSP: To me, certain kinds of stories are better able to explore the question of what it means to be human. Multicultural fiction. Historical fiction. Sometimes science-fiction and fantasy. No matter what the time and place, are there emotions and responses that are universal to us as human beings? As a writer, I try to establish the time and place firmly so readers can envision it. And then, even though that setting may be unfamiliar to them--just as it is to me, I've never been to 12th-century Korea!--I try to put the characters into situations where their responses and emotions will be completely recognizable.
Writers should be free to write about any topic that interests them. However, to write about it well brings tremendous responsibility. The awareness of that responsibility has grown in recent years, which is a very good thing. My own belief is that a writer is best able to write about things in which s/he has a personal stake. At least a part of the investment has to come from 'inside,' as opposed to 'outside' inspiration. ("Gee, I read/heard/learned about - fill in the blank - it's so cool I think I'll turn it into a children's book.") A personal stake instills in the writer the drive and desire to 'get things right,' as well as giving the story its emotional core.
What do I mean by a personal stake? Most often it means 'family,' a person's ethnic background, of course. But fine stories about other cultures have been written by people who married into that culture, or adopted children from that culture, or lived among the culture for many years. Those are not the only ways, of course; beyond that it depends on the individual. Thorough research is vital to any such story, of course, but it is no substitute for a personal stake.
2. We'd love to hear any anecdotes about The Call and meeting "your" librarians, such as Vaunda Nelson [New Mexico librarian and recent winner of the Coretta Scott King Award for her book, Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshall.] Also, how does tucking this award into your pocket affect writing the next book, and the next, and the next -- both in writing style and choosing a subject?
LAP: I actually got the call twice! The first time, the speakerphone wasn't working, so I talked to chair Kathleen Odean, who gave me the incredible news, and then she passed the phone to one or two other committee members. About half an hour later, the phone rang again, and when I heard Kathleen's voice, I instantly thought that she was calling back to tell me there had been a terrible mistake, that Shard hadn't won after all. In that split second, I started to try to think of something funny to say, imagining that she must feel terrible about having to call me again with the bad news, and I was so preoccupied that I almost missed what she was saying. Which was that the speakerphone was now working, so the whole committee wanted to hear my voice!
The members of "my" committee still get together regularly at ALA conferences, and I've been able to meet up with them a few times, which is always a great event for me. And I've been to several of their schools/libraries or done other events with them. I still get chills when I think about how fifteen strangers completely transformed my life.
As for writing after the award: I have to say that when I'm sitting in front of that blank screen with my fingers on the keyboard, it doesn't feel any different than it ever did. It's still an incredible challenge! And there is a strange combination of relief (if this story gets published, at least some people out there will actually read it, because of the Newbery) and anxiety (ditto!).
3. Knowing that Newberys are selected for literary merit primarily, we'd like your general view on how readable and accessible many of these titles are for kids. In other words, Linda Sue, is the Newbery designation the lifeblood for teachers and librarians, but the kiss of death for kids?
LSP: "Kids won't like that book." "Kids won't read that." "Kids will LOVE that book." Wow, am I tired of those kinds of statements. As if kids are a gigantic monolithic being--as if they all like and dislike the same things?? To me, that shows them a tremendous lack of respect.
(While we're on the subject, I'm also very tired of the "Newberys are never funny" line. The Higher Power of Lucky; Bud, Not Buddy; A Year Down Yonder; Holes; Despereaux; The Graveyard Book ... All have laugh-out-loud moments. Does something have to be one hundred percent slapstick to qualify as 'funny'?)
I don't think most young readers could tell you what a 'literary' book is. I know I couldn't have, when I was in elementary school. My criterion then (and now) was simple: I wanted books that I couldn't put down. For me as a young reader, that meant everything from Nancy Drew to Newberys. A Single Shard does indeed get force-fed to many students these days. Sure, some of them don't like it. But I also get lots of letters that say things like, "I didn't think I would like this book, but I had to read it for school and I loved it."
4. Can we expect another Linda Sue Park book in the near future?
LSP: I have two middle-grade novels coming out this year, and they couldn't be more different. In May, Book #9 of the 39 Clues series will be published by Scholastic. It's an action/adventure title that continues the story of Dan and Amy Cahill, siblings whose hunt for clues takes them on a wild ride all over the world.
In the fall, A Long Walk to Water, is coming out with Clarion Books. It's based on the true story of a Sudanese Lost Boy refugee named Salva Dut. The hardships he suffered as a child are almost unimaginable, but at the same time, his story is filled with hope.
Some readers will prefer one of these books over the other, but I hope there are many who will enjoy them both. Writers need to write all kinds of books, and publishers need to publish all kinds of books, because somewhere out there are young readers who need and love every kind of book. That's not very eloquent, but it's what I believe.
Please visit Linda Sue's Websiteand blogfor a peek into her reading journal, her knitting triumphs, and her advice to young writers. (Hint: readreadreadread).
Remember those dreaded word problems in math? If a train leaves at noon traveling north at 62 miles per hour, and another train starts out at 12:07, traveling south on the same track, at 68 miles per hour, how many bystanders will be rubbernecking when the train wreck occurs? Who's got the right answer, quick? In fact, this problem isn't solvable with logic and mathematics. Okay, forget the trains. How do we learn and teach critical thinking and complex problem-solving? Students may absorb dates, times-tables, state capitals, and battle outcomes, but are they learning how or why things happen the way they do? Are they learning how to change potential train-wreck outcomes? We hope they'll graduate and go forth to take care of the world for us. Facts won't do the trick; thinking innovatively about social, political, economic, and personal issues will. We must teach young people to analyze information, question data, even challenge authority if they're to live and work productively. We can start with toddlers, by forcing limited choices: "Do you want to wear the blue striped shirt, or the yellow polka dot shirt today?" The child weighs the options and considers future outcomes. "It's cold, but it'll be hot later, and the blue shirt's long-sleeved. Oh, but look, the yellow shirt has a hole, and maybe it'll split open when I swing from the monkey bars." Granted, your average four-year old will just pick the shirt he or she likes best, but making a decision is a first step toward critical thinking skills.
Move ahead a couple years. "Which makes a better pet, a dog or a cat?" Better yet, let's be the grain of sand in the oyster shell that provokes thinking this way: "Dogs make better pets than cats because ..." and see if the student refuses to bite the bait and presents an opposing argument. You can cheer when that happens.
For older kids, we pose more challenging problems. Asking their opinions on open-ended questions demands thought, regardless of what their opinion is, as long as it's backed up with logic and persuasive evidence. This, of course, requires that we adults be willing to entertain ideas from various perspectives. Let's start with situations drawn from the school day: "Should our lockers have locks, or can we trust everyone in the school community to respect our personal property?" "Should somebody be expelled for bringing aspirin to school?" Then we can move on to more worldly issues, even formal debates demanding research: "Is universal health care coverage a civil right?" "Do other countries have a responsibility to provide aid to earthquake-torn Haiti?"
There are myriad resources for teaching critical thinking, and we'll look at some in future issues. This one from Western Kentucky University caught my attention. The elaborate lesson plan involves the concept of a meteor striking Earth. It offers several characters with differing points of view and needs, thus providing a role-playing opportunity in the classroom to work out this dilemma. For details,follow this link to the WKU site.
Now, back to those trains rampaging down the track...
SPELLBINDERS would like your opinion on a thorny issue. AASL, the American Association of School Librarians, has grappled with a major decision for over a year: what is the official name for the professional library ... person? And the title is (drum roll, please) school librarian. Emails are flying furiously from those who prefer library media specialist, teacher-librarian, librarian-teacher, or half a dozen other designations. Their point is that school librarian is retro and too limited to describe the myriad duties and responsibilities of the person who is the hub of the school, not just the drone checking out books in the library. Others think school librarian says it all with eloquence and economy. What do you think? Please weigh in with your views at our blog, www.spellbindersbooknews.blogspot.com.
This month I will be focusing on steps six, seven, and eight of my twelve-step story method called, "The Secret Language of Stories" (SLOS). If you missed any of my previous articles, you may find them at the Spellbinders blog along with a copy of the February issue of this newsletter.
The next three stages of the story, PLANS & PREPARATIONS, the MIDPOINT CHALLENGE, and the ESCAPE all take place during the middle section of the story. During PLANS & PREPARATIONS, story plans will be discussed, blueprints and maps drawn, or a game plan written. There may be a series of scenes showing the hero and his allies preparing for a big event by running drills, working out, or rehearsing for a play. On the other hand, the main character may approach the Midpoint with little forethought and may even stumble toward danger without realizing what he's heading into. In some picture books there is little planning on the part of the characters and sometimes planning is simply implied. In novels and films this is often the point in the story when character and motivations are revealed and may be represented by quieter, more reflective scenes. Students sometimes have difficulty defining what is going on during these quieter moments because the action of the plot may be suppressed as more subtle elements of character are revealed.
The MIDPOINT CHALLENGE represents a major attempt to acquire either the story prize or some preliminary goal needed for its attainment. The obstacles and challenges overcome up to this point are small in comparison but have helped prepare the hero for a bigger challenge. The stakes are higher and often it may appear that the hero is about to die or suffer irreparable defeat. The prize might come in the form of treasure, medicine, love, information, or simply relief at having survived this particular challenge. At the Midpoint the hero may grab the prize or it may elude him. If he does attain the prize he may soon lose it, he may have to fight to keep it, or he may discover that there is something else of even greater importance still to be won. If the hero does not achieve his goal, he may have to form a new strategy in order to attain it. In more character-driven stories the midpoint usually focuses on an internal shift, or a new understanding.
In her book Inside Story: The Power of the Transformational Arc, Dara Marks talks extensively about the MIDPOINT and what she calls the Moment of Enlightenment.
At the ESCAPE phase of the story, the hero has survived the Midpoint Challenge. At this point there may be a chase scene as the villain realizes the hero is trying to get away. This section may be very brief or it may be quite long. The main character may feel that he has lost everything and may have to renew his commitment to the adventure to continue, or there may be a period of rejuvenation that Dara Marks refers to as a period of grace. Often it seems as if the story is over, and in some short stories this may be true, but even in short stories and picture books there is often a new and larger obstacle to overcome. This is typically the point where the Mentor reappears to offer advice or assistance because the hero is about to face his greatest challenge of all.
For a fun activity exploring character and motivation see the February Random Writing Activity on the blog on my website at www.caroleedean.com.
Two weeks ago, the 2010 Awards for Youth and Children's Literature were announced at the mid-winter meeting of the American Library Association-arguably one of the most exciting days of the year in children's publishing for authors, publishers, librarians and readers!
Spellbinders Book Buzz has been "buzzing" about potential award winners since our first issue in October. Please go to www.spellbindersbooknews.blogspot.com to read all the great Buzz columns. You can print the lists from the blog, head to your favorite bookstore, Amazon, or the library to fill your book coffers with some fabulous new books.
The list is long and will be abbreviated here for the sake of space. To see the full annotated list of award-winning books, please visit this link.
John Newbery Medal for most Outstanding Children's Novel, 2010:
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead and published by Wendy Lamb Books, an imprint of Random House Children's Books Twelve-year-old Miranda encounters shifting friendships, a sudden punch, a strange homeless man and mysterious notes that hint at knowledge of the future. These and other seemingly random events converge in a brilliantly constructed plot.
Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose, and published by Melanie Kroupa Books/Farrar Straus Giroux, an imprint of Macmillan Children's Publishing Group
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly and published by Henry Holt and Company
The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick, and published by The Blue Sky Press, and imprint of Scholastic, Inc.
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
by Grace Lin and published by Little, Brown and Company Books for Young Readers
Randolph Caldecott Medal for best illustrated Picture Book:
The Lion & the Mouse
illustrated and written by Jerry Pinkney, published by Little, Brown and Company Books for Young Readers The screech of an owl, the squeak of a mouse and the roar of a lion transport readers to the Serengeti plains for this virtually wordless retelling of Aesop's classic fable. In glowing colors, Pinkney's textured watercolor illustrations masterfully portray the relationship between two unlikely friends.
All the World illustrated by Marla Frazee, written by Liz Garton Scanlon and published by Beach Lane Books
Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski, written by Joyce Sidman, and published by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Michael L. Printz Award for Best Young Adult Novel:
Going Bovine by Libba Bray Sixteen year old slacker, Cameron, sets off on a madcap road trip along with a punk angel, a dwarf sidekick, a yard gnome and a mad scientist, to save the world and perhaps his own life. This wildly imaginative modern day take on Don Quixote is complex, hilarious and stunning. The hero's journey will never be the same after "Going Bovine."
Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman, published by Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Macmillan Children's Publishing Group
The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey, published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing
Punkzilla by Adam Rapp and published by Candlewick Press
Tales from the Madman Underground: An Historical Romance, 1973 by John Barnes and published by Viking Children's Books, a division of Penguin Young Reader's Group
Coretta Scott King Award for Outstanding book by an African American author:
Author - 2010 Winner:
Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshall by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, published by Carolrhoda Books, a division of Lerner Publishing Group, Inc. Born into slavery in 1838, Bass had a hard life and a strong sense of right and wrong. Bass was one of the most feared and respected lawman in Indian Territory. During his career, he made more than 3,000 arrests but killed only fourteen men.
Mare's War by Tanita S. Davis, published by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, a division Random House, Inc.
Illustrator - 2010 Winner:
My People illustrated by Charles R. Smith Jr., written by Langston Hughes, published by ginee seo books, Atheneum Books for Young Readers
The Negro Speaks of Rivers illustrated by E.B. Lewis, written by Langston Hughes and published by Disney-Jump the Sun Books, and imprint of Disney Book Group
Pura Belpre Award for the best Latino/Latina books of 2010:
Author - 2010 Winner:
Return to Sender written by Julia Alvarez, and published by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children's Books
Diego: Bigger Than Life by Carmen T. Bernier-Grand, illustrated by David Diaz, published by Marshall Cavendish Children
Federico García Lorca by Georgina Lázaro, illustrated by Enrique S. Moreiro, and published by Lectorum Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Scholastic Inc.
Illustrator - 2010 Winner:
Book Fiesta!: Celebrate Children's Day/Book Day; Celebremos El día de los niños/El día de los libros illustrated by Rafael López, written by Pat Mora, and published by Rayo, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers
Diego: Bigger Than Life illustrated by David Diaz, written by Carmen T. Bernier-Grand and published by Marshall Cavendish Children
Gracias Thanks illustrated by John Parra, written by Pat Mora and published by Lee & Low Books Inc.
My Abuelita illustrated by Yuyi Morales, written by Tony Johnston and published by Harcourt Children's Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
The following awards in these further categories can be seen at the ALA link above.
Schneider Family Book Award for books that embody an artistic expression of the disability experience William C. Morris Award honors a book written by a first-time author for young adults Odyssey Award for excellence in audio book production Theodor Seuss Geisel Award for most distinguished beginning reader book Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults Robert F. Sibert Medal for most distinguished informational book for children YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award Andrew Carnegie Medal for excellence in children's video Mildred L. Batchelder Award for an outstanding children's book translated from a foreign language and subsequently published in the United States Alex Awards for the 10 best adult books that appeal to teen audiences
May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture Award recognizing an author, critic, librarian, historian or teacher of children's literature, who then presents a lecture at a winning host site
Lois Lowry will deliver the 2011 lecture.