Friday, March 25, 2011

Review of Atomic Number 92

by Lupe Fernandez

A snow avalanche threatens to bury two intrepid boys and an old miner. Will they ever find The Lost Uranium Mine? This adventure chapter book was published in 1964 by Benefic Press, written by Henry Bamman and Robert Whitehead, and illustrated by Berthold Tiedemann. 

At a child, I would check this book out from the Hayward Public Library in my hometown of Hayward, CA. It has everything a house-bound boy would love. A lost treasure. A ghost town. Hiking gear and a Geiger counter. I wanted a Geiger counter so bad. If I had a one, I would wander around his house and listen to the clicking of decaying atoms. 
Our hardy young heroes, Mark and Rich follow old miner friend, Patrick brave a snowstorm in search of the ghost town of Great Bear, deep in the Rocky Mountains.

Since I grew up on the snow-less shores of the San Francisco Bay Area, I was fascinated by their trek through a blizzard, plunging knee deep in drifts, wind shrieking. Page after page, the illustrations put me on the mountain with the boys. When the three explorers find refuge in a cave, old Patrick tells the boys a tragic tale of greed and death in the discovery of the Lost Uranium Mine. 
The motivation for finding uranium, says Old Patrick, “…our country has been looking for uranium for a long time…the money you get for finding the ore is very good.” And the hunt is on. But the Ghost of Great Bear menaces their every step. When the party finds the abandoned town of Great Bear, they settle in for the night in one of the abandoned buildings. They talk about finding the black ore which is processed to extract uranium. Rich says, “Uranium and money, just what I want.” 

After escaping a cave-in, a wild bear and crawling around in tunnels, the uranium hunters find the black ore. The Geiger counters click away. Rich says, “That’s money talking!” 

Their last encounter with the mysterious Ghost of Great Bear yields, after a fist fight in the dark, a claim jumper posing as the ghost to scare away Rich, Mark and old Patrick. 

A page count in parenthesis ended every chapter. Chapter one is 918 words. Total word count: 7,676. The book includes a vocabulary count page. Total words: 282 Uranium is used 7 times. Kill is used 17 times.

The next page has a map and an article about the method of finding and claiming a uranium mine. Cool. I would draw my own maps with trail keys to places unknown where monsters dwell. 

Some Facts About Uranium
  • Atomic Number 92
  • Name derived from the planet Uranus
  • Atomic Weight: 238.03
  • Periodic Table Symbol: U
  • Popular Isotopes: Uranium 235 and Uranium 238
  • Isotope 235 is used atomic bombs
  • Isotope 238 is used to make plutonium.
  • Uranium Oxide (UO2) is used in nuclear reactors.
  • Extracted from open and underground mines. 
  • Milling ore results in radioactive tailings. 

In the 21st century, I know a lot more about uranium than I did as a child. If The Lost Uranium Mine were written in the 50’s - when we really loved the atom - I wonder if such a book would‘ve included a radioactive sample for educational purposes? 

I tracked down a copy of this elemental tale of adventure before my memory decays and the story of The Lost Uranium Mine is gone forever.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Hilde’s Top Ten Things
To Do With a Rejection Letter

by Hilde Garcia

From now on- “IT” refers to “the letter
10 - Order a pizza. Make sure to get grease on IT.
- Let your kids color on IT.
- Eat a Bag of Doritos and use IT as a napkin.
- Play desk basketball with IT.
- Make a paper airplane with IT and throw it into your neighbor’s yard.
- Throw a party and use IT as a dartboard.
- Use IT for origami.
- Change the name on IT and send IT to someone you don’t like.
2- Look for mistakes in IT and return IT to sender.
1- Read IT. Sigh. Eat a pound of chocolate.
It is only a word. NO

If you turn the word around, it spells ON, as in, “You’re on. I’ll get published in spite of your NO.” And then laugh all the way to the bank when you do.

No is just that, no. It doesn’t mean anything more than that, unless you give it more meaning. And at least in the publishing world, it’s a nice NO, on letterhead, sometimes even with a personal note of encouragement. 

In the word of show biz, you don’t even get that. You get, “You’re not the right type,” right to your face and in front of everyone else. And then they yell, “next.” 

That’s brutal. A rejection letter is not.

It took Dr. Seuss 33 tries before he heard yes for The Cat in the Hat. Jack London received over 600 letters. He used them for wall paper.

Therefore enjoy the rejection and the chocolate. It’ll make the Yes all the sweeter.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

In Conversation with Naomi Hirahara

by Hilde Garcia

1001 Cranes is the story of twelve year old Angela Kato, who arrives in LA begrudgingly, as a result of her parent’s choice.  She is quickly put to work making origami displays for newlyweds.  Without realizing it, it helps her cope with her parent’s forthcoming divorce, relocating to a new city and connecting with people who look just like her.  She learns that she can survive anything and that she is a hero.

Ms. Hirahara and I met at the Flintridge Bookstore Mother Daughter Event back in January.  It was impossible to take notes, I was too busy learning how to make an origami frog, that actually jumps.  So cool!

Naomi, how did you come up with the idea for 1001 Cranes?  Did you spend your summers making displays as a child?

I grew up with origami.  My mother is from Japan and she had this great origami how-to book (this is before origami became so popular in the U.S.) from Japan.  I poured over that book and while my parents bowled in a league, I’d bring my origami papers and fold cranes, penguins, etc.

I didn’t even know about the wedding displays until I was a reporter and editor at a Japanese bilingual newspaper in Little Tokyo.  Actually, I thought it was a bit bizarre because the cranes are glued together closed – one of the best thing about origami cranes is that you get to pull the wings open.

While working in the community, I learned that these 1001 crane displays had grown into a mini-cottage industry.  I found that fascinating.

Origami Frog Lift-Off
You grew up in Pasadena and even attended an immersion school with the target language being Japanese.  How was that experience? Do you think it is different for kids today as there are many programs being developed for immersion?

I attended an intensive Saturday language school (three hours long) and there are still a number of them in existence today.  I hated attending Japanese school.  Being an immigrant’s kid, I wanted to blend it as much as possible.  Go to Friday night sleepovers and watch cartoons on Saturday morning.  And believe it or not, learning Japanese wasn’t cool at that time.  Now my photocopy clerk is spouting Japanese words that he learned in watching anime.  It’s a different world.  Especially in California, knowing another language is definitely seen as more of an asset, but I bet in certain neighborhoods, there are still a few teenagers who hiss at their parents at the mall or movie theatre, “Speak English.”

Origami Frog Airborne
What would have improved my language school experience is if they treated us more as American kids than Japanese ones.  There were expectations that none of us seemed to want to fulfill.

When you visit schools, is origami part of your presentation? How do students react?

Yes, I definitely incorporate origami.  The kids love it.  Since my book has a pink cover and the story is more soft than action-filled, origami is a way for boys to participate.  I did cranes first, but I discovered it was too difficult to teach in a large classroom setting.  From a origamist (yes, there are such people), I learned how to make a frog from an index card.  That’s worked out so much better because it’s simpler and index cards can be easily found at any office supply store and even classrooms.

Origami Frog Lands
Was race an advantage for you as an author?  Do you feel that the bi-cultural trend is here to stay?

In terms of race, I don’t think it’s neither helped nor hindered my publishing journey.  There are so many fabulous writers of color.  The publishers are going to be most concerned about the work itself.  There are a number of multicultural stories written by writers outside of that ethnic experience.  I do think schools are looking for stories that speak to diversity, but many times it may involve a book that is set in another country.  What is trickier is writing about an American community like Japanese Americans.  Right now I’m working on an American steam-punk story with a Japanese American female protagonist.  We don’t see too many characters of color in fantasy-inspired works.

In your bio, you spoke of the stories that have stayed with you from Japanese Americans, who were interned during WWII.  Is Grandma Michi one of those stories?  On your website, you mention that both your parents were interned as well.

Actually, my parents weren’t interned; they were in Hiroshima during the atomic-bombing.  But I have relatives in Northern California who were forcibly removed and incarcerated in Wyoming during World War II.  Through the newspaper and my oral history projects, I interviewed hundreds of individuals who were among the 120,000 internees.  Learning about a Japanese American orphanage in Silverlake inspired me to create a character like Grandma Michi.

You spoke of the 1001 Cranes display being a Japanese American custom.  On your website, you share with us how the Senbazuru, or a thousand cranes, became an important symbol for the girl, Sadako Sasaki, who suffered from the radiation poisoning from bombing of Hiroshima.  If this custom is Japanese American, how did it become a worldwide symbol for peace?

The thousand cranes, from Japan, is a symbol of peace.  Add one crane for luck and you get 1001 cranes and the Japanese American displays.

I saw the article on your site about two young women making a memorial for the Topaz Relocation Center.  And how did you find the girls and their project?  Did they find you?  I was so moved by their goal to make 120 thousand plus cranes. I have emailed them to see if they still need some.  I might give it a try with the instructions in your book.

Yes, I’m glad that you got in touch with them!  I met them at a Denver conference on the internment and I told them that I would spread the word.

Ok, I am actually going to attempt to fold a crane. I did the frog, well enough, so I feel I can graduate to cranes.  This is me doing it; (photo or video will be inserted on blog).

Any crane folding tips that Grandma Michi didn’t mention in the book?


So I better not miss a step then!

Watch Crane Creation Video
You have several adult books out- Mas Arai mysteries. You spoke of how much harder it is to write for the tween age group. What is different? Do you write about topics you know?  Or do you research any field or topic and create a voice?  Especially for MG/YA, should the author have some connection to the subject matter, specifically in regards to historical fiction?

The voice of a tween protagonist must be spot-on.  Some people are surprised to discover that I don’t have children yet write in this genre.  But that’s the thing – you can’t be an adult looking down at a child.  You can’t be a mom or dad when you are writing that book.  You have to embody the whole personhood of that tween character.  You have to remember how it was like when you yourself was bullied or had that first crush.  How you hated your parents at times.  Yes, technology has us in a whirl, but those essential things have not changed.
In terms of topics, you write what you are passionate about.  You travel, go to libraries and museums, look at photographs over the Internet.  And read.  Reading is key.  Sometimes I go to writing conferences and young emerging writers tell me that they are too busy to read.  That drives me crazy!  Layers of books inform our writing.  In terms of historical fiction, oral histories have been a help to me.  Having a personal connection drives me – I know interviews I did with two sisters born at the turn of the 20th century still resonate me as I write about California in 1918.

I couldn’t agree with you more. Reading is key. I read every night.  There are so many stories that inspire me and give me such energy to continue working on my own.  I feel there is always time to read, especially for writers.

And as for personal connection, you hit it on the nose. I heard a story that 30 years later is the basis for my YA historical fiction novel, so I think it is safe to say that it too resonated with me.

If you haven’t read 1001 Cranes, do!  It’s a great read and will take you on a journey in our own backyard.

I would like to thank Naomi for this interview.
For more of Naomi’s work, read her new Mas Arai mystery, Blood Hina.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Ode To Hayward Public Library, Hayward, CA

by Lupe Fernandez

My father used to drive me and my older brother to the library. He would sit in this 1960 white Chevolet Impala, drinking Hamns and reading his crime tabloid. My brother and I would go into the library and head for the children's section with all kinds of cool books. Some titles I remember. Some I can't.

My favorites were The Lost Uranium Mine* by Bamman Whithead and a picture book about the Mariner space probe missions to Venus and Mars. I've never been able to locate that book again. My brother would read the Matthew Looney series. There was a shelf devoted to ghost and mystery stores, like The Thing at the Foot of the Bed* by Maria Leach.

My brother often found an illustration book on the history of flight. I can't remember the title. We sat a reading table. I recall looking over my brother's shoulder - "Don't crowd me," he would push me - and following the progress from 18-19th century balloons, elegant single-engine planes, bi-planes, WWI planes, jet fighters to Apollo spacecraft.

Favorite books in hand, my brother and I check them out with are library cards, orange paper inside a plastic sleeve. The librarian behind a counter would take our library cards, the white index cards from inside the book cover and pass them into a mysterious humming, clicking machine. The cards went into one slot and out another.

We went outside, and if we didn't see the white Impala parked at the curb, we waited by the circular water fountain. The lights in the fountain illuminated the water shooting of the small pipes in the concrete basin. I searched for quarters among the change on the fountain bottom, wondering if I would get into trouble for snatching the money. Or we run around the trees on the library grounds to pass the time. All the time inhaling the intoxicating smell of hot dogs from the Doggy Diner across the street. 

We knew our father was at the local magazine store to get another police crime tabloid and would return shortly. He kept us on a short leash.

I always checked out a book, but my brother didn't. My father would yell at my brother for not checking out a book. I felt sorry for my brother. It wasn't that he didn't like reading; my father unfairly compared my voracious reading habits with him.

Unwritten Family Rule: Children Cannot Leave Library Without Book

However, my mother had her own judgment.
"What did you get?" she asked me.
I showed her my favorite picture book about the Mariner 2 space probe to Venus. She was displeased. "Why do you always get the same book?" I supposed she wanted me to expand my literary tastes.

Children s Section
Doggy Diner is gone, but trees still shadow the library grounds. Books line the shelves. Children still go. Too bad about the fountain. I miss snap of catalog cards, the sound of index drawers slamming shut.
I'll know I've hit the big time in children's literature when I get to speak at the Hayward Public Library.

*I'll be reviewing of these books in a future post.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Kathleen O'Dell
In Conversation with Pen & Ink

Kathleen O’Dell is the author of Agnes Parker...Girl in Progress, Agnes Parker...Happy Camper, Agnes Parker...Keeping Cool in Middle School, Ophie Out of Oz and Bad Tickets.

I spoke with Ms. O’Dell about The Aviary, her upcoming book with Knopf, to be released on September 13, 2011, as well as her other works while at the Flintridge Mother-Daughter Book party on January 30th. Below, Ms. O’Dell offers insights on being a romantic nine-year-old; deriving Mrs. Parker’s character and why writing picturebooks is like inscribing scripture on the head of a pin.

In the Agnes Parker books, the character uses humor as a coping tool, in an attempt to deal with difficult life events. In the (CR) interview you say that humor, “has served me well. It's actually kept me alive, I think.” What was the situation in your own life that you developed this lesson from? How do you think humor allows kids to cope with realities that they may not completely understand?
I was born with an exceedingly romantic temperament and an ability to throw myself completely into fantasy. I was self-dramatizing and could be extraordinarily earnest and a bit of a dweeb. (While all the normal kids in Catholic school were playing kickball, I’d spend recess inside the church praying for the statues to come alive. I felt I might have more in common with St. Therese and St. Joseph than with the sports-loving kids outside. This kind of grandiosity did not make me popular.) Somewhere around the age of ten, I began to see myself from the outside. Instead of always being swamped by my emotions, I could recognize glimmers of my own absurdity. I had one friend in particular who was a terrific mimic, and I sort of learned at her feet. My new sense of humor gave me some much-needed emotional distance. I wasn’t stumbling about with the weight of destiny on my shoulders the way I did at, say, age nine.

I’ve since learned that kids make a cognitive leap around eleven (Agnes’s age), and their humor becomes more sophisticated. They are able to appreciate irony—and thank goodness for that. A sense of irony is what helps many of us survive adolescence (otherwise known as “the eye-rolling years”).

Agnes’ mother, Mrs. Parker, is the “every mother” that girls fantasize about. She is compassionate, wise, non-judgmental and a good listener. How much of Mrs. Parker’s character is drawn from your real-life mom, how much from your own experience as a mom and how much is she your idealized vision of a mom?
My mom is one-of-a-kind (nothing “every” about her), and we are quite close now that I’m an adult. Mrs. Parker, though, is the mom I wish I could be. I have boys, but I know women friends who get along swimmingly with their young daughters. And I adore my boys’ girlfriends. They’re in tune with their environment in subtle ways that my boys aren’t. They’re “other-oriented” and parse social situations differently. For me, being a mother in an all-male family has been sometimes lonely—not because my own kids aren’t thoughtful or perceptive or interesting conversationalists. (They are. They’re just not girls!) Fortunately, a friend ours is kind enough to lend me her ten-year-old daughter on occasional weekends, and we have a blast together. I suppose I do idealize the mother/daughter relationship, but I’m glad to have cobbled together some facsimiles for myself.

In the AGNES PARKER books, I derived a lot of satisfaction out of creating an intact, reasonably harmonious household. They do exist in real life, but they’ve fallen out of fashion in contemporary children’s literature, perhaps as a counterweight to the past where almost all fictional families were breezy and full of mild charm. The pendulum swings.

You say in the CR interview that as a kid, “I never confined myself to just stories, however, I wrote poems and plays and lots of songs.” Now that you have publishing success with your novels, what ideas would you attempt in other formats? If you were to attempt picture books again, do you know now what was holding them back from publisher acceptance?
I don’t think I understood what made a picture book work. Looking back, I’d say I never left enough empty space for the illustrator’s interpretation and was over-explicit. I’d also say that I never mastered that full-circle, satisfying ending that the best picture books have. When it comes to PB’s, a writer has a whole lot to do in a short space. For me, it’s as difficult as engraving scripture on the head of a pin. And as headachy.

Pen & Ink staffer, Kris Kahrs would like to thank Ms. O'Dell for granting this interview. 
Edited by Pen & Ink staffer - L. Fernandez

Friday, March 4, 2011

Interview With Amy Goldman Koss

by Susan Berger

Meet Amy Goldman Koss the multitalented writer of MANY books for mid grade and YA.  You can find a list of her titles on her Amazon page.

I became aware of Amy as a writer when I attended the Flintridge Bookstore multi author signing on January 31, 2011.

She immediately fascinated me.  Amy has had two careers as a children’s writer – BC  (before children) as a picture book writer/illustrator and AD (after diapers) as a prolific writer of mid grade and YA novels.
I was unable to find any of the picture books at the Santa Monica Library.  Amy told me they had been out of print for some time.  That’s too bad. I have only seen one of her illustrations– the self portrait on her website – and I would love to see more.

So far I have read only two of Amy’s books. I will be reading more. Amy has a wonderful voice. It is fresh, funny and, when I read her books, my mind instantly identifies with her character's mind.  

Most of all I love the humor. How can you be funny about cancer?  Well, read Side Effects and find out

Side Effects is about the pain, fear, and unlikely comedy of 15-year-old Izzy’s journey, told in her own powerful and authentic voice. It is Izzy’s story -- screams and all.

This is a book that needed to be. Note to reader: The heroine, Izzy, (like 86% of the children who contract childhood cancer) does not die.

Side Effects received the American Library Association 2006 BBYA (Best Books For Young Adults),New York Public Library Recommended List for Young Adults, Junior Library Guild Premier Selection Pick, Kirkus -- Best Books of the Year,St. Louis Missouri Read It Forward 2008, It was also nominated for Rhode Island YA Book of the Year Award 2008 and the Georgia Peach Book of the Year Award 2008 and Hilde’s top reads for 2010

Is the current recession funny? It is when Amy writes about it. 
This is a timely, warmhearted novel about life in hard economic times. I loved Jacki and her family.  I thought it was a wonderful accessible story of what it feels like to go through a recession from a child’s point of view.

And that Amy, brings up my first question:  There is a LOT less on the to be found on the internet about The Not-So-Great Depression I loved this book.  I thought there should be a lot more buzz about it.

Is your publisher cutting back on publicity, and if so, how are you handling that? 
They don't do squat! I am handling it by over-eating and wallowing in self pity. Is there some other way???? 

I know you have a MySpace page   which has links to many of your books. Do you feel that social media has helped sell any books for you?
It's impossible to tell. 

Do you have any advice for a first time author going to do a school or library visit?
Know that some visits are great fun, the kids are prepared, enthusiastic and engaged, meaning the teachers or librarians have prepared them, and they've had a chance to read your books -- and some gigs leave you feeling like Willy Loman. Just treat the kids like people and give it your best shot. Alexis O'Neill is the School Visit Guru. I suggest you stalk her. 

Back to Side Effects for a moment.  This is an amazing book.  One of the things I took away clearly was’ Izzy’s talent as an artist. I felt the horror of her experience being lessened a little by turning it into art.  The fact that you are an artist shines through this book.

Is your daughter also an artist?
Yes, she is, but not like Izzy. Side Effects was based on her cancer, medically, and many things are congloms from that horrific experience, but my daughter and Izzy are not really the same kind of kid.   

What is she studying now in school?
Anthropology. She spent some time in Africa at an animal orphanage caring for baby baboons and that's the kind of pee-drenched work I can see her being happiest with.  

How does she feel about Side Effects?
She read it before it left the house and approved whole heartedly, or it never would have gone out. Now, it has been so long since she had cancer (she was 14 then and is 21 now) that I think some of her memories are confused with the novel!

Your bio says you teach.  Where? When?
I teach two independent groups who meet around town. (One at IHOP and another at Conrads so we can be waited on while we work) And I teach at Vroman's Bookstore. 

How I saved Hanukkah
I am a first page fanatic.  If you hook me on the first page, I will probably read the book.  (I am not reading any more of your first pages now because I already have to read 
The Girls
Poison Ivy
and your rhyming easy reader Where Do Fish Go in Winter )  

Out of all of your books, do you have a favorite first line or paragraph?

You say on your web page “I have a pretty little studio out back where my dog and rabbit and I work in spurts -- all day and night sometimes, and not at all others.”
What are you working on right now (Please don’t say you are taking a break. I want more books!!!) 
Let me know when you finish the ones you have, and maybe by then I'll be ready to tell you what's next. (Which is to say I'm taking a wee break) 

Do you have any upcoming events?
I WISH I had way more gigs to report, but I have basically none. Maybe that's why my poor little baby The Not-So-Great Depression is doing....well... not so great. (sigh)
Some people can do both, write and self-promote (see Lisa Yee self-promotion queen) and some of us can't. (see me)

I am in awe of Lisa Yee, but I am on your side of the teeter totter.  I have three books out and I don’t seem to be handling promotion effectively.  I truly hate it.

Thank you very much for this interview, Amy.  You can meet Amy on her Amazon page and on her website