You might think I’m all about serious issues these days, since I’ve been posting about Black Lives Matter and stereotypes and pandemics.
Well, rest assured, my life is just as ridiculous as ever.
About five days ago, we got a puppy. His name is Coby (short for Cobra Kyi, for those of you who are martial arts nerds like my family members). He is small, cute, and very demanding.
My house is now carpeted in pee pads and dog toys. My days are spent wrestling over sock ownership. And my nights are spent shlepping the little guy outside every few hours, whenever he starts to whine.
A couple nights ago, I carried him downstairs at 3 a.m. I pointed him toward a safe place to pee. Then I sat down — in my nightgown — on the threshold of my house.
On top of a bee.
That’s right. I sat on a bee at 3 a.m.
And it hurt! I haven’t been stung in years, and I forgot how much it… well… stings!
“What was a bee doing on your doorstep?” my friend said, when I told her the story.
Presumably, he was sleeping. Which is something I hope Coby and I manage to do, too, sometime soon.
As protests continue over systemic racism and the death of George Floyd, there has been a flurry of social media posts listing children’s books by diverse authors.
It can be easy to give these posts an eye-roll. What good can book lists do in the face of centuries of oppression?
Often, when we talk about children’s books with diverse characters, we talk about how important it is for all readers to see themselves and their lives reflected in the stories they read. I know I was always thrilled to find books with Asian protagonists, so I could share them with my Burmese-Canadian kids. I didn’t want Silence and Violence growing up feeling like books were only about white kids.
But books can do much, much more than reflect one’s own experiences. And books with diverse characters are not only for readers of colour. They’re for all of us.
First, because they keep us from repeating the mistakes of history. For a few years now, my daughter has been suggesting that schools replace their current eighth-grade English curriculum with The Hate You Give, Moxie, and Simon vs. the Homosapiens Agenda. (This would definitely be an improvement on The Red Pony, which is what I remember reading in high school.)
The police officers who are reacting so violently to protesters… would their reactions be different if they had spent eighth grade on a deep reading of The Hate You Give? One can certainly hope so.
The diverse books on our reading lists don’t all have to focus on big issues, either. They don’t have to be political. We should give our kids books about Black characters playing instruments, about Indigenous characters solving mysteries, about people of color falling in love for the first time.
Let me put on my science hat here.
Way back in 1954, a guy named Gordon Allport published The Nature of Prejudice. He made a suggestion: if people hang out together as equals, they discover they have things in common. They learn that everyone’s human. They grow less likely to stereotype.
Researchers have since taken Gordon’s guess and turned it into science. First, they gave it a fancy name: the contact hypothesis. Next, they designed experiments to see if it was true. They did more than 200 studies in twenty-five countries. They probed the biases and reactions of 90,000 people. What they found: 94 percent of the time, contact between groups reduced prejudice.
But maybe you live in a tiny town, with a homogeneous population. Maybe your school isn’t diverse. Well, good news. Researchers at Canada’s McGill University found that reading books about friends who have different ethnicities can also help reduce prejudice.
When my social media feeds are full of pandemic news, and my TV reflects a world on fire, and it seems impossible for any one person to make a difference, reading serves as my refuge, gives me windows to new ways of thinking, and allows me hope for the future.
I’m so happy to think of kids finding all of these things in their books. And if I were to give advice to a young person overwhelmed by the recent changes in the world, I would say, “Disappear into a book for a while. See what you discover there.”
We’ve launched a newsletter, and our second edition is coming out within the next few days. You can sign up here.
AND, we have an online writing workshop coming up! Kallie George will be hosting on Sunday, May 3rd, as we delve into the writing and editing of picture books. There’s still time to register, and lots more information at Ink Well Vancouver.
My friend Stacey sent me an email the other day. I know this is late, she wrote, but time is a social construct.
So true, especially these days! I always tease my husband for planning his life in eight-minute increments. Suddenly, he’s home for hours at a time. (At this moment, he’s practicing with his speedbag in the garage. Let’s blame any typos on the fact the house is shaking, shall we?)
My kids actually seem happier without the daily routine of school. Yesterday, my daughter wrote an essay, finished a project, made lemon tarts, sewed some masks, and trounced us in Settlers of Catan. My son has been doing 3D modelling tutorials. If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know he turned my Me and Banksy cover into this squirrel…
… which James McCann then 3D printed for us, creating this…
I love the layers of creativity happening!
I always think I’m going to be more productive when I have acres of undistributed time, but often — as is now proving the case — I get more accomplished when my writing hours are limited. I’ve been working on a picture book, I’m almost finished a proposal, and I have a manuscript due in a couple months.
I’m assuming everything will get done, somehow. Because work, like time, is a social concept. Right? It’s just all happening a bit differently these days!
8:30 am My daughter is still fast asleep. My son heads off to do his homework. My husband sets up in the family room to work from home. I begin writing.
9:15 am My son drapes himself around my neck. I tell him to pour himself a water, then read a chapter of his novel. My husband continues working, undisturbed.
9:30 am My daughter emerges, hungry. I make breakfast suggestions. My husband continues working, undisturbed.
9:45 am My son announces that he will die of boredom unless he’s able to use the main computer. I switch to the laptop and retreat to my bedroom. Inexplicably, my husband is now on the living room couch, conducting meetings ON SPEAKERPHONE.
10:30 am My son is frustrated because his animation files won’t upload. It may work if he can switch computers. He takes my laptop. I continue working, on my phone. At least the conference call downstairs appears to be over.
11 am My husband announces he’s finished his work. My son says his brain has died. My daughter needs help finding a sponge. (Why? I don’t even ask.)
I am privileged to have a home with multiple rooms, and blessed to have my family members close. I make myself repeat this sentence five times, slowly.
Words written today, not including blog rant: 245.
My son cleared his throat and read me his new story. It opened with great drama. A young boy woke to find his city invaded by aliens. He befriended one of the small aliens. He was about to negotiate peace with the bigger ones when… the spaceship shot him.
“Wait… what?” I said. “Your story was so great. Why did you kill your main character?”
“We only have to write two pages for school,” he said. “If I didn’t kill him, everything would get more and more complicated.”
And with that, he summarized all my writing problems. I start a book, I fall in love with the characters, I scribble along until things get complicated, and then… trouble. I’m stuck in the messy middle.
Me and Banksyfloundered in this state for quite a while as I tried to figure out exactly what Dominica and her best friends were going to do about the security cameras in their classrooms. Dominica had already taken some small, individual actions. I knew the book would end with a collective rebellion… but how would I get them from here to there?
Eventually, I skipped to the end. I wrote the scene about the students’ grand pièce de résistance. After that, it was simply a matter of figuring out what each character would have needed to do to reach that scene. I backtracked to fill in the missing pieces.
Writing is a messy process. As my son explained, it gets more and more complicated with every page. But sometimes it helps to remember that I don’t need to know what happens next. As long as I know what happens at some point, I can write forwards, backwards, and in between.
Though it’s best to avoid the alien spaceships along the way.
My new middle-grade novel Me and Banksy came out a couple weeks ago, so I’ve been visiting bookstores, chatting with book bloggers, and secretly sleeping with copies under my pillow. (Just kidding, but I do feel about new-book smell the same way my husband feels about new-car smell.)
Me and Banksy is the first of my books to have an audiobook edition, which I’ve already gushed about here. This week, I got to download and listen to it for the first time. My son, Violence, who has just turned thirteen (!!!) and who’s long been the biggest audiobook fan in our household, hung out with me in the kitchen listening to the first chapter. I think he’s decided I’m now a real writer.
There are reviews posted, including this one from Quill and Quire, one here from Shelf Awareness, and these lovely words from Publisher’s Weekly. Today, the Canadian Children’s Book Centre published an interview with me. I also have guest posts appearing on various book blogs next week, so watch this space for the links.
And thanks to everyone for your kind words and support!
Admittedly, I was asleep by 10:45 on New Year’s Eve, while my daughter and her friends celebrated downstairs, but I’m now wide awake and ready to celebrate.
There’s a lot to look forward to in 2020. I’ve been reading articles like this one, which offer some hope for the future. Greta Thunberg’s final post of 2019 on Twitter said, “This coming decade humanity will decide it’s future. Let’s make it the best one we can. We have to do the impossible. So let’s get started.” That seems like the perfect note on which to begin the decade.
On a more personal level, I have new writing projects to get excited about. Me and Banksy is finally hitting the bookstore shelves on January 7th. I say “finally” because birthing a book baby takes SO much longer than birthing a real baby, and this project has been in the works for a couple years. I’m so thrilled to see it in the world. Reviewers have been very kind so far. Here are some nice words from Publisher’s Weekly, and a starred review (eep!) from Quill and Quire.
Meanwhile, I’ve signed a new contract for a middle-grade non-fiction book with Kids Can Press and I’m about to send off a non-fiction book proposal co-written by my daughter. Fingers crossed!
I’m not one for resolutions, but my husband said something recently that struck a chord. He said you don’t always need to have fun. You can just be fun. I’m going to try for that.
Happy New Year, all! If you have resolutions or big 2020 plans, please let me know in the comments!