Archive for the ‘Interview’ Category

New Interview with Award-Winning Author Na’ima B. Robert on PaperTigers Site

Monday, June 17th, 2013

Na'ima B. RobertNew on the PaperTigers site is an interview with Na’ima B. Robert, in which I asked her lots of questions about her latest YA novel Black Sheep (Janetta Otter-Barry Books, Frances Lincoln, 2013).

Black Sheep by Na'ima B. Robert (Janetta Otter-Barry Books, Frances Lincoln, 2013)Set in London, Black Sheep follows the Romeo-and-Juliet-like relationship of teens Misha, a privately-educated “posh” girl, and Dwayne, a gang member living on a housing estate in Brixton.  Na’ima is perceptive in portraying the deep-down vulnerability of teenagers, no matter how much bravado they show in  facing day-to-day challenges – and no matter how much that bravado itself precipitates consequences that risk spiralling out of control.  Black Sheep is a real page-turner and should come with a warning that once started, it’s almost impossible to get anything else done!

When I asked Na’ima about her recent school visits in the UK, it was great to hear the impact Black Sheep has had:

I visited a Catholic school in North London and, apparently, the class that had been assigned the book was so into it, that they told the other classes, who begged to be assigned it as well. They totally identified with the characters and there was a sense of amazement that this life – urban, Black British life – had been portrayed in a book. We had some great re-enactments and readings together and they created portfolios that included illustrations, trailers, letters and character profiles. It was a wonderful experience and it was duplicated in the classes in a different school that read Far from Home.

So do head on over to the PaperTigers site to read the full interview and find out more about Na’ima’s books and her writing, and then visit her website

New PaperTigers Interview: Gabrielle Wang

Friday, April 26th, 2013

Author Gabrielle WangHead on over to the PaperTigers site, where we continue our Journeys theme with an interview with Australian author and illustrator Gabrielle Wang.

Gabrielle talks about her journey as a writer, before and since the publication of her acclaimed first novel, The Garden of Empress Cassia, and introuduces us to her latest book, The Wish Bird, which is due out in August. I’m particularly excited about this book as it will feature “about ten full-page pen and ink illustrations throughout the book, more than I have ever done before.” Gabrielle started out as an artist before becoming a writer, so we defintiely have a treat in store.

Here are a couple of snippets from the interview:

I spent my teen years trying to hide my Chineseness as I think a lot of children of immigrant families did. At the same time, I always had the feeling that I didn’t quite belong in Australia, that perhaps I belonged in China. But after living in Taiwan and China for six years, I realised I did not fit in there either. Eventually, I think, we all need to realise that we are citizens of the world.

For me travelling is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Going to a new place is like being a child again. Now, I travel for research, which gives me added pleasure. But it is important to leave your own culture at home otherwise misunderstandings can ensue.

For example…! Head on over to the PaperTigers website to find out more and to read the whole interview.theme_2013_journeys

“The Garden of my Imaan” Blog Tour: Interview with Farhana Zia

Friday, April 19th, 2013

We are delighted to welcome Farhana Zia, author of the newly-released middle-grade novel The Garden of my Imaan (Peachtree Publishers, 2013), to the PaperTigers Blog on the final leg of the book’s Blog Tour this week.

The Book

The Garden of my Imaan by Farhana Zia (Peachtree Publishig, 2013)Fifth-grader Aliya is an American-born Muslim of Indian descent and she is the immensely likeable narrator of The Garden of my Imaan.  The novel begins with a scene that must be familiar in many young people’s lives of being in the car, running late on a Sunday morning – but this particular journey is marrred by a racist comment flung at Aliya’s mother by another driver.  In a way, this unsettling incident is a trigger for Aliya to explore more deeply how she lives her Muslim faith, coupled as it is with an assignment from her Sunday School teacher for Ramadan, for which Aliya writes a series of letters to Allah.  These letters are interspersed with the narrative throughout the book and their openness and honesty, as well as their increasing level of maturity, offer readers a chance to reflect on both Aliya’s but also their own reactions to what life throws up for Aliya: in particular the challenges of living what initially Aliya sees as two separate lives, framed by school and religion.

Much of what Aliya experiences will be familiar to many of the book’s readers – the exciting school projects Aliya puts together with her best friend Winnie; dealing with peer dynamics – including the tyranny of both being bullied and seeking popularity; the challenge of standing for student council; and a happy, loving, at times annoying family.  In addition, the book is firmly rooted in Aliya’s Muslim faith and her growth within it.  The girls in Aliya’s Sunday School class share confidences and concerns about life, whether or not to wear the hijab, parties and boys.  Then there is the unsettling effect of another Muslim girl, Marwa, arriving at her school, exuding a quiet but compelling confidence – how come she doesn’t mind everyone seeing her wearing the hijab?  What does that mean for Aliya, who up till then has kept her faith completely separate from school?

The book is full of delightful, well-rounded characters from across the generations; and it probes readers to think about religious observances, both private and public, without restricting them to a specific set of answers.  Pre-teen girls will be able to empathise with Aliya in general, and for those readers growing up in the western world post-9/11 who also share her Muslim faith, The Garden of my Imaan will be a particularly riveting read.

The Author

Author Farhana ZiaFarhana Zia grew up in Hyderabad, India and immigrated to the US in 1967.  She is an elementary school teacher and is the author of acclaimed picture book Hot, Hot Roti for Dada-ji, illustrated by Ken Min (Lee & Low, 2011) – included by Jama Rattigan in her Top 10 Multicultural Picture Books about Food for PaperTigers’ 10th Anniversary.   You can read a great interview with Farhana about Hot, Hot Roti for Dada-ji here, a joint interview with Ken Min here, and a “Peek at Farhana’s Creative Space” here.

At previous stops from this week’s blog tour, you will find reviews of The Garden of my Imman at:

~ Monday (April 15)
Welcome to Our Wonderland by 3 Bookworms
Blue Owl

~ Tuesday (April 16)
Kid Lit Reviews~

~ Wednesday (April 17)
Ms. Yingling Reads
It’s About Time, MaMaw

~ Thursday (April 18)
The Streetlight Reader – review and interview

And so, without further ado…

Welcome to PaperTigers, Farhana!

We enter Aliya’s life at a time when she finds herself exploring her Muslim faith and grappling with questions of whether to fast for Ramadan or to wear the hijab. She is surrounded by role models offering different perspectives and ultimately it has to come down to her. Her first-person narrative offers frank insight into these dilemmas, as well as events such as wanting to go to a friend’s party; the way she and others react when Marwa, another Muslim girl, arrives at her school; and running for student council…

How would you describe Aliya and did you enjoy creating/following her journey?

Aliya is a typical American pre-teen, dealing with some typical and some a-typical issues. Unlike her friend, Winnie, who is pretty brash and fearless, Aliya is non confrontational and is somewhat tentative on the surface. But there is something inside her, a potential if you will, that is waiting to blossom. This presents itself time and again in the form of a self-questioning and a desire to be a little better and a little stronger than she is.

In Aliya, I see the nature and nurture theory at play. She is receptive to the influence of her role models mostly because of her own inner mettle. Her story is the story of the growth of one’s self-esteem, which is partly gifted to us and partly dependent on the proper conditions in our environment.

And yes, I very much enjoyed walking step with step with Aliya and peeking into her hopes and dreams along the way. I particularly enjoyed seeing her arrive at the place in her head where I’d like my own grandchildren to be when they are at that age, if not sooner.

Aliya’s story opens with an unsettling racist incident, and there are shadows of prejudice that emerge at different moments in the story. In counterpoint to that, there is a positive multicultural thread running throughout — Aliya’s and Marwa’s families share their Muslim faith but come from different countries; Aliya’s best friend Winnie is Korean American. Were you conscious of this balance?

I’ve always found the middle ground to be the most reasonable. Our world is all about balance isn’t it? Seemingly contrary forces are interdependent. Day balances night; one season balances the other… just to cite two easy examples.

But it’s also about the balance between good and evil, hope and despair. The scale tips from time to time but finds its equilibrium sooner or later. If there is hate and intolerance in the world, there is also understanding and goodwill. In The Garden of my Imaan, I showed both sides of the coin — frailty and strength; trust and suspicion, problems and resolutions; success and failure — because these forces co-exist in counterpoint to each other.

Undesirable things happen to us from time to time, life being what it is. It’s pretty hard to let go of those negative experiences but the random acts of kindness shown to us are memorable too. It’s those kindnesses — genuine and unexpected — that keep our faith renewed in the humanity of all people.

As a people we naturally have differences in attitudes and outlooks simply because we have our own personal histories and experiences. It’s when these differences lead on to cause harm to others that we all must be wary. And I think the best long-term remedy in such instances is education and open dialogue.

A sense of intergenerational love and wisdom emanates from the book — as well a strand of resentment where visiting grandmother Choti Dahdi is concerned. You have created some strong women! How would you describe the different relationships that they represent?

The book is as much about familial bonds as it is about Aliya’s personal growth. It is a tribute to a multi-generational family system operating at its best. I lived in such a system for part of my youth and grew to appreciate the closeness of relationships as well as the seamless support systems that developed so naturally.

To me, Aliya’s home represents all of this. Amma and Badi Amma are more to her than grandmothers whom she visits on rare occasions. They are an integral part of her daily life. And as such, there is a lot of cross pollination going on between her and them. Amma and Badi Amma impart wisdoms, traditions, culture and values, while she keeps them informed about things like spas and such. Of the two, Amma has a more active role in Aliya’s life but Badi Amma also has a say in all important matters. It’s the village that raises the child, you see.

Choti Dahdi is a visiting relative. She is idiosyncratic, dogmatic and causes chagrin but she’s respected as a member of the extended family. There is no question of Aliya disrespecting her. Grumble, perhaps but disrespect? Never. Why? Because of the important lessons instilled into her by Badi Amma, Amma and Mom, of course!

The book is interspersed with Aliya’s letters to Allah for her Sunday School project. How important was this for the structure of the book?

The Allah letters were absent in the first draft. At that time, The Garden of my Imaan was still evolving. But once the story line began to take a firm shape, the letters became not only pertinent but almost essential. Aliya’s reflections mirror her growth. Her private confessions allow her to make better sense of the issues she is grappling with. The letters let the readers see this. In many ways, the letters are the glue that holds the threads of the story together.

Food is also an important theme in the book – did you know it would be so central when you started writing it?

Ramadan was always central to the story from the start and while eating and drinking between sunrise and sunset is forbidden during Ramadan, the truth is that food gets to be pretty important before and after the fast. The story of Thanksgiving coinciding with Ramadan was also there from the start. So there you have it. There was more than one reason to write about food. The foods mentioned in the story are examples of the foods one might typically have for suhur (before fasting) and iftar (breaking of the fast) on the Indian subcontinent. The sheer khorma is a traditional dessert in Indo/Pakistani Muslim households and definitely part of the Eid menu.

How did your own faith influence your writing?

I could only write this story with most honesty from a perspective I knew best, and my views are moderate. This book is not about Islam. It might give some information about some of the practices but only that. And it does not promote any particular view point either. But it does speak about the variations in the practice of the faith and it speaks about the variations in its adherents. It’s a simple social commentary, related in simple terms through a fictionalized telling. I am more at ease with Aliya’s family’s views pertaining to the hijab but at the same time, I wrote with an appreciation for those whose strength of conviction compels them to wear hijab and to stay faithful to the requirements of practice.

…And your experience as a teacher?

I suspect some issues in the book would not be as easily apparent to me had I not been a teacher. You get to witness the full gamut of human behaviors and interactions in a classroom with so many personalities, attitudes, and perspectives co-mingling or conflicting. A classroom is truly a slice of the bigger world and more so now when society is getting increasingly multicultural.

What do you hope readers will take away from the story?

Aliya’s story could be the story of any young person, anywhere in the world, navigating her way through some bumps in life. I hope readers will see this and be on her side as she tries to resolve her particular issues. I hope the story will leave readers feeling good because it is a story of faith in the human potential. I hope they will see that Muslims come in all skin tones, ethnicities and degrees of religious fervor and that they are no different in this from Christians, Jews or Hindus. But most of all, I hope the readers will see that it’s not what’s on our head that matters but what’s in it.

How different was the writing experience for you, compared with your first book, picture book Hot, Hot Roti for Dada-ji?

Hot, Hot Roti for Dada-ji was conceived, and written pretty quickly. The idea for the story fell into place by the end of my usual walk around the neighborhood. On the other hand, The Garden of my Imaan took much longer to complete. It underwent several major transformations. Originally, I wanted to write it as picture book but the theme grew larger and the original premise of the story changed entirely. What this book shares with Hot, Hot Roti for Dada-ji though, is the theme of family. It’s something I seem to keep coming back to in my work.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’ve submitted a manuscript recently. Besides that, I’ve been taking a second look at several picture book manuscripts I have in store already and I am also mulling some ideas for writing something new. I don’t have a clear vision yet but it will likely be a chapter book, adventure/myth mix with a male protagonist. There are a whole lot of questions at this point. I do my best thinking during my walks and now that the weather is improving I’m hoping that something’s going to start flowing soon.

Thank you for the opportunity to share some thoughts in your blog.

And thank you, Farhana, for being with us today — I’ve loved exploring The Garden of my Imaan more deeply with you.

PaperTigers 10th Anniversary: Uma Krishnaswami’s Top 10 AND a Quick Chat

Monday, October 22nd, 2012

One of the books in our recently announced 2012 Spirit of PaperTigers Book Set is the gorgeous Out of the Way! Out of the Way! by the almost-same-named Uma Krishnaswami (author) and Uma Krishnaswamy (illustrator).   I interviewed Author-Uma last year about her hugely entertaining The Grand Plan to Fix Everything, so I caught up with her this last month to ask her a couple of questions about Out of the Way! Out of the Way!, originally published in India by Tulika Books and published this year by Groundwood Books.  (You can read about Illustrator-Uma’s experience creating the book in the Q&A for our Gallery feature of her work.)

Welcome back to the PaperTigers blog, Uma.  What does Out of the Way! Out of the Way! mean to you?

I never understand what a book means to me until quite some time after it’s been published.  I can’t seem to think of it in that way until I’ve gained some distance from the project. On the surface, Out of the Way! Out of the Way! is a simple story, and I am often drawn to simple stories, especially those in which a single action has far-reaching consequences. At another level I suppose it represents my Pollyanna attempt to make things right in this world. In the reality we all inhabit, let’s face it, most of the time, when development demands a road, trees generally lose out. I started out by thinking of the face-off we see so often between human sprawl and green, growing things. The story grew and changed over many revisions and especially over the editorial process at Tulika Books. In the end it became a response to that conflict, questioning it and offering another view.

If you could send it anywhere in the world, where would that be and why?

Well, I’d want to send it to communities on the edges of cities, places where green habitats are rapidly being eaten up by concrete blocks and uncontrolled roads. Places where children and the adults who care for them might feel inspired to look at their environment and begin asking questions about whether and how it’s being sustained. I’m very grateful to Groundwood Books for bringing this book to North America, and to PaperTigers for selecting this title and making it possible for such conversations to take place.

Also, because it was first published in India by the wonderful Tulika Books in English and in eight Indian languages, I’d really like to see sets of regional language editions of the book sent to schools and NGOs in India, in communities where children learn to read in languages other than English.

Thank you, Uma.  You can keep up to date with Uma at her wonderful blog Writing With a Broken Tusk, as well as her website, which currently highlights Out of the Way! Out of the Way! on its landing page.  But don’t go away just yet – the good news is that Uma also has a list of ten favorite  books to share with us for our 10th Anniversary Top 10 series.

A Top 10 of Multicultural favourites by Uma Krishnaswami

I had to think about this. It was difficult to stop at ten!  This list is in no particular order, and includes books across the age range.

Indian Shoes by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Amadi’s Snowman by Katia Novet Saint-Lot

Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke

Nabeel’s New Pants by Fawzia Gilani-Williams illustrated by Proiti Roy (originally published by Tulika Books, India as Ismat’s Eid)

The Wild Book by Margarita Engle

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

Tiger on a Tree by Anuskha Ravishankar, illustrated by Pulak Biswas

Waiting for Mama by Tae-Joon Lee, illustrated by Dong-Sung Kim


I’ve spotted some of my own favorites in Uma’s list too… What about you?  And if you would like to send us a Top 10 of your favorite multicultural books from any genre or theme (we’ll also accept a Reader’s Ten – see Janet Wong’s selection for an explanation), just email me your list to marjoreATpapertigersDOTorg.

New on PaperTigers: Interview with award-winning author Paul Yee

Thursday, August 16th, 2012

Just published on the PaperTigers website is our new interview with Paul Yee.  Paul is one of Canada’s leading writers for young people and has won awards for both his stories for younger readers and his YA fiction.  He writes mostly about the Chinese Canadian experience in both historical and contemporary settings.

Corinne and I had the great pleasure not only of hearing Paul speak at Serendipity in Vancouver earlier this year, but also chatting over dinner on the final evening – and then attending his book launch for The Secret Keepers (Tradewind Books, 2011), where he mesmerised us all with his recitation, not reading, of the book’s opening.  (Take a look at some photos here.)

PaperTigers first interviewed Paul in 2003 so it is great to have caught up with all he’s been doing since then – and there was certainly much to talk about… Head on over to read the interview now.

New on PaperTigers: interview with best-selling author Lisa Yee

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012


Head on over to the main PaperTigers website to read our new interview with the wonderful Lisa Yee and find out about the background to some of her best-selling books.

After having my emotions wrenched between tears of laughter and genuine weeping during Lisa’s presentation at Serendipity 2012 in Vancouver earlier this year, I came back to the UK laden with her books.  Older Brother, Younger Brother and I have been hijacking them from each other ever since – and it’s just as well I’ve read them as Younger Brother will bring a character matter-of-factly into conversation while I now have the necessary knowledge to do the mental somersault towards the fictional identity of this “person”.  So if you don’t yet know Lisa’s books, I can thoroughly recommend them for you and any middle-grade/YA readers you know.  In the meantime, head on over to our interview to find out more…


Poetry Friday: interview with Julia Donaldson and her Library Poem

Friday, March 16th, 2012

Julia Donaldson is one of the UK’s most popular children’s authors. As I learned in the new exhibition at at Seven Stories in Newcastle, UK , she started her career writing songs for children’s television – which I must have heard as a child watching Play School. In 1993, one of those songs was made into a book, A Squash and A Squeeze, and illustrated by Axel Scheffler, so beginning a partnership that has become renowned the world over, thanks especially to their book The Gruffalo.  Other illustrators who have worked with Julia include Karen George, Emily Gravett, Lydia Monks, David Roberts and Nick Sharratt.  Indeed, since 1993, Julia has written over one hundred books and plays for children and teenagers.

Last year, Julia became the UK’s Children’s Laureate. This year, there is the exhibition about her, her work and some of her illustrators and I not only had the good fortune to be there for yesterday’s opening, but also the privilege of a quick interview (you can read my post about the whole day here).  I had time for just three questions…

First of all I asked about the background to her book The Magic Paintbrush, which I wrote a post about  going on five (gulp) years ago… Rereading that post, yes, it’s still a favorite, which is why it wasn’t the book I took with me to ask Julia to sign: I didn’t have time to go through all the various piles of books in my boys’ rooms to find it!   The Magic Paintbrush is the retelling in verse of a Chinese legend in which the heroine Shen helps her fellow villagers with food and essentials thanks to a magic paintbrush given to her by a mysterious gentleman: but things get dangerous for Shen when the Emperor finds out about the magic paintbrush and wants it for himself…

So, about the book’s background, Julia told me that a friend of hers had been running a multicultural project in Stirling, Scotland, with local women from different countries telling traditional stories from their cultures. One woman told the story of The Magic Paintbrush. After hearing the story, Julia originally envisaged writing it as a play, and in fact, often uses the book during school visits as there’s plenty of scope for getting a whole class involved in acting out the story, with Julia herself playing  Shen and the teacher as the Wicked Emperor! And it’s also a great vehicle for Julia to pass on her passion for language as she invites children to come up with objects for Shen to paint and thereby make real – as long as they have two syllables to fit the rhythm of the original verse. Interestingly, Julia also acted The Magic Paintbrush out with children last year at the Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh to promote two resource packs for schools produced by Amnesty International (you can read an article she wrote about it; and find Amnesty’s resources here – they include a lesson based around the wonderful We Are All Born Free…).

The Magic Paintbrush became a picture-book rather than a play – but it still had a bumpy path to publication. The original publisher who’d suggested it as a picture book then rejected it because what Julia had written was too long and detailed and “too much of a ballad”. In fact, this is one of the things Julia actually likes about it: that it is a fusion of its Chinese origins and the old English ballad. However, fortunately for us, Macmillan took it on, and Julia was delighted with their choice of Joel Stewart to do the illustrations. I agree, and it is a real treat to see some of his fine watercolour originals in the Seven Stories exhibition.

When I suggested that The Magic Paintbrush was different to her other books in that she didn’t invent the original story, I stood corrected: Julia’s original inspiration for The Gruffalo was the Chinese trickster tale about a tiger and a little girl. That was the starting point anyway although the little girl became a mouse and Julia expanded the story, and changed the setting – and of course, invented the Gruffalo, who changed her life. I later learned in the exhibition that Julia nearly gave up on writing The Gruffalo and we have her son to thank for saying he liked it and she had to finish it – phew!

I also asked Julia about the songs that go with so many of her picture books. It’s the words that come first, she said; and while writing the song, she may have to change the words slightly from the book to make them fit. She thinks about what kind of music will suit each book – so, for example, she was thinking of Bright Eyes when she composed the bits where the mother dinosaur speaks in the song for Tyrannosaurus Drip, a story about a little duckbill dinosaur that hatches out in a Tyrannosaurus nest by mistake, gets himself to the other side of the river to be with the other duckbills, and turns out to be a lot braver than his scary big sisters think – you can watch Julia performing it with her husband Malcolm here. I think it’s quite funny that Julia was inspired by a song about rabbits for hers about dinosaurs – what would the rabbits say! And now she’s working on a calypso song for her recent book Jack and the Flumflum Tree

As Children’s Laureate, Julia has been a key figure in the campaign against library closures and cuts in the UK. It just so happened that yesterday statistics pointing at falling standards of literacy hit the headlines, so I asked Julia what her reaction was, in relation to our libraries. After expressing her concern about reading too much into a set of statistics, she pointed out that nevertheless any measures for getting children reading are welcome –  “but let’s not forget we have this fabulous resource – libraries!” She then counted off some of the fantastic programs available through libraries for enhancing literacy and getting children enjoying books: the Rhymetime sessions set up by Book Trust’s BookStart program; the equivalent Bookbug sessions organised through Scottish Book Trust (and Julia recently became Bookbug’s patron); the Summer Reading Challenge (yes, my boys have loved that every year).  So closing down libraries? “For me it’s madness, if we’re worried about literacy.  You can’t just ram a book down a child’s throat.  A library is where you decide what you like.  For goodness’ sake, we should be hanging onto our libraries. ”

And another “fantastic” way to enhance literacy, Julia says, is for children to read playlets together – and it so happens that she’s working on a book of 36 playlets at the moment. Now that will be a treat in store. And I have a real treat for you now too, because Julia gave me permission to reproduce the poem she wrote for the UK’s National Libraries Day in February this year in celebration of libraries and as a prod against library cuts. Here it is:

Library Poem

Everyone is welcome to walk through the door.
It really doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor.
There are books in boxes and books on shelves.
They’re free for you to borrow, so help yourselves.

Come and meet your heroes, old and new,
From William the Conqueror to Winnie the Pooh.
You can look into the Mirror or read The Times,
Or bring along a toddler to chant some rhymes.

The librarian’s a friend who loves to lend,
So see if there’s a book that she can recommend.
Read that book, and if you’re bitten
You can borrow all the other ones the author’s written.

Are you into battles or biography?
Are you keen on gerbils or geography?
Gardening or ghosts? Sharks or science fiction?
There’s something here for everyone, whatever your addiction.

There are students revising, deep in concentration,
And school kids doing projects, finding inspiration.
Over in the corner there’s a table with seating,
So come along and join in the Book Club meeting.

Yes, come to the library! Browse and borrow,
And help make sure it’ll still be here tomorrow.

Julia Donaldson, February 2012

Thank you, Julia. It was such a pleasure to meet you and I so enjoyed talking to you.

This week’s Poetry Friday is hosted by Gregory at GottaBook – head on over…

Q & A with Andrea Pinkney of Scholastic, editor of Allen Say’s Drawing from Memory

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012

The relationship between an author and his or her editor is not necessarily foremost in a reader’s mind when enjoying a book, but there’s no doubt that it’s important. I was struck when reading Allen Say‘s latest book Drawing from Memory (Scholastic, 2011) by a comment he made in his moving Author’s Note: “When my editor, Andrea Pinkney, and I first talked about the book, she asked me if it was possible to include some of my master’s work in it. The thought had never occurred to me; I didn’t think any of Sensei’s work could be found today.” So began the quest to seek out some of Noro Shinpei’s work – and Say did eventually bring together some wonderful examples in Drawing from Memory, including himself as a cartoon character, which must resonate as a dream come true for many of todays’ young readers. Say himself would probably agree that the book is all the richer for exploring Noro Shinpei’s work in more depth: indeed, his description of the quest shows clearly what those channels in his graphic narrative meant to him. So we are delighted to welcome Andrea Pinkney to the PaperTigers Blog to answer a few questions about Drawing from Memory, as well as her current projects as Vice President and Executive Editor with Scholastic Trade.

Andrea is also an acclaimed author of children’s books herself, including Coretta King Honor Picture Books Let It Shine! Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters, illustrated by Stephen Alcorn (Gulliver Books, Harcourt), and Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra, illustrated by her husband Brian Pinkney (Hyperion Books for Children) – as well as novels such as, most recently, Bird in a Box (Little, Brown Young Readers, 2011). You can read an in-depth interview with Andrea about her own writing at The Brown Bookshelf here, and more about her career as an editor here.

I believe Drawing from Memory is Allen Say’s first book published by Scholastic.  How and why did Scholastic acquire the book?

We’re so proud and happy to welcome Allen Say to Scholastic! Drawing from Memory marks an important and exciting change of direction for Allen. He is known by many for his work as a brilliant picture book creator, and Caldecott medallist. But in this book, Allen extends his talent to create a stunning work that is part memoir, part graphic novel, part narrative history. With Scholastic’s tremendous reach into schools, to teachers, and to young readers through our vibrant distribution channels ― including Scholastic Book Clubs and Book Fairs ― along with our Trade publishing program, we felt strongly that Drawing from Memory was the perfect vehicle for giving Allen Say a new publishing home.

What was your involvement in the editorial process?  Were there any particularly special moments for you?

I believe an editor’s role is to hold the flashlight while an author and illustrator digs for gold. In the case of Drawing from Memory, Allen delved into his own internal creative fountain to reveal a story that is intensely personal to him ― his journey to becoming the artist that he is today. My job was simply to guide that process, and to work with Allen to illuminate the most relevant aspects of his narrative. As for special moments, Allen is an incredible storyteller. So each and every time we spoke about the particulars of his incredible life and how these would be included in the book, Allen imparted some new detail about his childhood that always brought me to tears of wonder.

What is your favourite part of the book?

This is like asking which of your children is your favorite! I’m hard pressed to find one part of Drawing from Memory that I like more than another. I will say, though, that the moment when Allen knocks on the door of Noro Shinpei, Japan’s premier cartoonist, and the man who becomes Allen’s spiritual father, always fills me with a feeling of awe ― that this eager kid is about to enter a world that will change the course of his life forever.

How do you think Drawing from Memory fits in with Allen’s previous books, in particular the semi-autobiographical The Ink-Keeper’s Apprentice

In Drawing from Memory Allen takes his creative talents to greater heights by pushing the boundaries of bookmaking with a work that is an impressive amalgam of art styles, text, and perspectives.

What projects are you working on at the moment?

There are always exciting things brewing in our shop! Next fall we’ll publish a novel by Sonia Manzano, the Emmy Award-winning actress who has played the role of Maria on Sesame Street for more than 40 years. Also, multiple Coretta Scott King Award winner, Sharon G. Flake, is at work on a new novel. And the very busy and creative Allen Say has his paintbrush whipping up new books for Scholastic.

Children’s E-Books: Interview with Hazel Edwards

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

As we continue to explore the world of e-books on PaperTigers, we’re asking practitioners and people on the ground about some of the challenges and triumphs they personally have faced creating e-books, as well as the challenges and triumphs they see for the industry as a whole. Last week we spoke with Janet Wong ; today we chat with Hazel Edwards.

Hazel is a 2012 Astrid Lindgren Award nominee, and Ambassador for Australia’s  2012 National Year of Reading, and writes a story each birthday for her grandkids. f2m:the boy within was a 2011 White Ravens selection. Hazel is also a director of the Australian Society of Authors and especially interested in e-books. She is perhaps best known for her There’s a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake series, as engaging and creative as the author herself, which recently celebrated its 30th anniversary with the release of the Pocket Bonfire short film that screened internationally at 2011 film festivals.

We first interviewed Hazel back in 2007, and since then she has been a regular guest on the PaperTigers Blog; we’re delighted to welcome her back now to tell us about her involvement with e-books.


What was your inspiration for writing e-books? Was that your intention from the get-go, or was there an evolution in your creative process?

I enjoy e-books, both as another innovative format for my stories and to read myself. Inclusive of print, not exclusive. Audio already exists. Maybe smellovision next?

Change should be embraced, not feared. So, although I’m format-challenged, my aim is to learn one e-skill per day and slowly add e-stories to my website. For e-skilled children who are more visual rather than verbal, I’d prefer them to exercise their imaginations reading mysteries on screen, than play violence-based computer-games.

As a 2012 National Year of Reading Ambassador, I’m keen on any aids to literacy, and reading ‘on screen’ is seen as ‘cool’ by challenged readers, whether kids or adults. That’s the reason for adding my mystery series and performance scripts as an easy way of sharing reading for a fun purpose.

‘Us mob likes your e-stories’ was a response after an outback web-chat with an indigenous literacy program.

Fan mail proves e-books work for challenged readers, whether read on laptops or other devices. Educator Robyn Floyd forwarded this fan mail. And it’s genuine responses like this that make an author’s day.

Recently, my e-mentor daughter streamlined my website to allow sales of my print books, along with a slow move to all e-books, for the ease of readers beyond bookshops and libraries. This also makes my books available for international schools or remote web chats.

Experimentally, I grouped some of my easy-to-read children’s mystery stories into an e-book series, Project Spy Kids, starring Art, a challenged reader who is a sleuth and excellent problem-solver.

My mainstream publishers have my print titles as e-books on Amazon etc.  These include the nonfiction Aussie Heroes series Sir Edward Weary Dunlop and forthcoming Dr Fred Hollows and eco-fantasy  Plato the Platypus Plumber (part-time). An early e-book series was Duckstar.

So why did I become an e-publisher?

  • Some of my publisher merger ‘orphaned’ titles were requested by readers and I had no copies. Rights-reverted titles could be re-published in new formats, from my own site.
  • My aim was speed of reader access (they get the e-book within 24 hours) plus extras like free finger puppet patterns or Antarctic polar ship plans.
  • I write in varied fields. Writing a Non Boring Family History, my most popular e-book, helps grandparents or parents wanting to write family stories for children of their extended families internationally.
  • A non-fiction title in print and e-book format is Difficult Personalities with Dr Helen Mc Grath. This has an audio Louis Braille version as well.
  • International web-chats with authors are more relevant when the e-book is instantly accessible. f2m:the boy within is a significant  gender transition (and punk music) print novel easily and diplomatically available for international readers via Amazon etc.

In 2009 I was an Author Ambassador with the Nanjing International Cultural Exchange.  We did webchats in dual languages, and wrote some school-based stories about school pet turtles in Mandarin and English to exchange between the Australian and Chinese schools. Now some of my titles are in Mandarin.

So although I see my core profession as author, I’ve become an authorpreneur, unintentionally.

Children’s books, particularly picture books, present specific challenges to the e-book industry in terms of faithful reproduction of art and story. They also present exciting opportunities for new forms of interaction. What limitations or challenges, expected or unexpected, have you personally experienced creating e-books for children, and in turn, what benefits have you discovered as compared to printed books?

Picture books are a greater technical e-challenge in terms of preserving the quality via aps but Blue Quoll is innovating with selected picture book titles of mine. Certain stories are better suited to certain formats, but there is enormous potential for adding/changes languages and using the audio as a literacy aid. This is the MOST exciting area.

Plato the Platypus Plumber Part-time is available in Spanish, German and English as an e-book as well as a print picture book. The eco-water issues plus the ‘tool kit’ for fixing watery problems, but also grumpy people, is relevant for the age group, but there are still quality-formatting-conversion challenges to e-books.

However the Pocket Bonfire’ production of There’s a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake is an excellent example of the director retaining the sentiment and childlike focus of the original book, but using the strengths of the medium to add new insights via sound, pausing, visuals etc.

I would like to see the Hippo stories in e-book apps formats. But that decision is for the publisher Penguin and when they think the timing and technology appropriate.

Particularly in English-speaking countries, a common concern is the lack of diversity in children’s books. How or do you think e-books might address such concerns, and how has your work engaged with issues of multicultural children’s books?

Stories crossing media into theatre or film and going into formats such as Braille or Auslan signing for deaf kids have always intrigued me.  My books have been translated into Indonesian, Mandarin, Finnish, French, Polish and American, where Mum became Mom and taps became faucets.

I live in a multicultural suburb of Melbourne. Our neighbours are Chinese, Vietnamese, Greek, Dutch, New Zealander, Serbo-Croatian , Somali and Italian. That’s just my street. Hence my Frequent Flyer Twins are Asian-Australian 10-year-old sleuths. Authors draw inspiration from their communities, but the best stories always have universal appeal through compassion.

Originally a popular print series, the Frequent Flyer Twins books now have new covers, e-formatting for all kinds of e-readers and merchandise such as stickers, t shirts, etc. by graphic designer/illustrator Jane Connory.  We met serendipitously in a local park when I was doing a Channel 31 “Kids in the Kitchen” program linking food and reading my picture books.  I had my grandson cooking Hippo footprints on camera (pancakes). Jane now designs all the new e-books in the “Project Spy Kids” literacy mystery series and illustrates the covers.

In the twentieth century the development of children’s rooms in public libraries marched hand-in-hand with growth in the children’s publishing industry. Do you think e-books will change roles of traditional libraries, and how do you envision e-books reaching children of all incomes and backgrounds?

Digital libraries are the key to providing e-books for readers of all incomes. But it’s also necessary to recompense the creators, without illegal copying depriving them.  Currently Australia has PLR (Public Lending Right) and ELR (Educational Lending Right) recompense for surveyed usage of creators’ books in libraries. This is a very significant part of most creators’ incomes. However audio and e-books are NOT included.

Distribution of digital books is a key issue and currently there are discussions of ways creators need to be compensated for library usage.

Stories about minorities need to be better distributed and recompensed, so readers can learn more about other worlds.

We love sneak previews! What are you working on at the moment? Do you plan for it to come out in print, as an e-book, or both?

The Parts of Speech TV Show and the L of a Difference literacy performance scripts have just been uploaded to my site.  Next is the sequel to my chapter book Sleuth Astrid the Mind Reading Chook called Lost Voice of the Grand Final.

This month, I launched a picture book A Safe Place to Live by Bic Walker, a former refugee/boat person from Vietnam and now an architect, who has written a universal story of change from a child’s viewpoint, based on her experiences. I highly recommend this self-published book, and have suggested to Bic than the e-book should be her next challenge.

This is a time of expediential change with e-books. We are all learning together. Next up, I’m going to write Authorpreneurship, a “how to” writing book, just as an e-book, not print.

If you were a fortune-teller, where would you predict the future lies for the evolution of the printed book vs. the e-book generally?

I’d predict that internationally more emphasis will be on audio stories with pictures for future literacy and ease of changing the language. What that technology will be called and in which format, is in transition now.  These are exciting times as regards technology, but the world still needs storytellers, so we can see the world from another’s viewpoint.

Titles, covers, chapter headings and blurbs are especially important for e-books. Readers expect more ‘gadgets,’ but currently print-book conversions work quite well. I predict that the game-book will be the next development, which is why I have been experimenting with my junior mysteries to encourage reader involvement.


Thank you, Hazel.

New Gallery Feature: Shirin Adl

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

Head on over to the PaperTigers website to find out more about talented artist Shirin Adl and to see a selection of her work, including illustrations from our current Book of the Month, Let’s Celebrate! Festival Poems from Around the World.  Shirin grew up in Iran, and now lives in Oxford, UK.  Her work combines exuberance of color and media (find out in our Q&A, for example, how she used cling film to good effect in Let’s Celebrate!), and we will soon be able to enjoy her writing in print also – in the meantime, visit Shirin’s website for a taste of her unique story-telling voice.