Ya gotta Play to Win

September 30, 2011

Isn’t it funny how commercials will stick with you forever and ever?

When I was a kid, the Maryland Lottery’s tagline was “ya gotta play to win,” and although they’ve had a million others since (and I even worked for the Ad company who managed their account some years ago) it’s that one that sticks with me.

It’s actually a pretty deep tagline, if you think about it. Well okay, not deep but it makes total sense. People dream about winning the lottery all the time. But a vast majority of us (myself included) never play it. Therefore and thus, we’ll never win.

This tagline is never truer where books are concerned. I’ve been on my soap box for years about wanting children’s books featuring protags of color and written by authors of color to have a higher profile. Some days I feel like I’m screaming in the wind, even though I’m aware I’m hardly alone in the call. While I’m grateful for and support the Coretta Scott King award and others that were designed to ensure these books get their due, I won’t rest until these books are acknowledged side-by-side on the regular with the rest of children’s books.

So, once again as I’ve done many times over the years, I’m stumping for the Cybils begging, pleading folks to please, please nominate some worthy children’s books by and featuring people of color. Please!

Not sure what the Cybils are? Then hi, you’re new around these here parts. Check out the details. For everyone else…

Cybils submissions opens October 1st (yes, that’s tomorrow!!) and runs through October 15th. Very small window. So good thing I got to you on a Friday, so you can spend all weekend identifying which books fit the criteria below (scrubbed directly from the site):

To be eligible for a Cybils award, a print book must be:

* Published in the US or Canada only. This avoids outrageous shipping costs and double jeopardy when a UK title is nominated a second time after it comes out in the US;

* Published between one contest and the next. For this year, that means from Oct. 16, 2010 to Oct. 15, 2011;

* Widely available for public sale. Titles available only from book clubs or publisher websites are not eligible, for example, as we cannot obtain copies easily.

* Aimed at the youth market up to age 18. Books marketed to adult readers that may also appeal to teens are not eligible.

Alright. Now that we’re all up to speed, remember – our books never win if they don’t play. So nominate, nominate, nominate!

I now return you back to your regularly scheduled program.

The Beat Goes On With Added Harmony

September 29, 2011

Don’t tell anyone, but…you  may have noticed that we here at BBS didn’t announce that the 28 Days Later submission window was open.  It’s because the campaign is “under construction.” It will be alive and well in 2012, but how we’re selecting authors this year is different. So stay tuned. We’ll get you all up to speed closer to campaign time.

What’s really important now, is that the BBS family has expanded. *applause*

We’re pleased to welcome our two newest members,  children’s authors dedicated to the cause of entertaining kiddies through literature.

Crystal Allen and Gwendolyn Hooks

It’s no secret that it takes a large amount of sweat equity to highlight books and authors.  Even less of a secret is that when you want something done, you go to the busiest person in the room. Authors are always the busiest people in the room. Guaranteed!

So we’re excited that Gwen and Crystal have added the labor of love that is 28 Days Later to their already full plates.

Crystal is the author of MG, How Lamar’s Bad Prank Won a Bubba-Sized Trophy (Harper Collins, Feb. 2011).  And she’s also ambidextrous. My inner twelve-year old isn’t sure which of those is cooler!

Gwendolyn, is the author of 11 (count ’em), eleven children’s books more than half of them easy readers.  So she’s getting to our babies nice and early, when we need them to fall in love with words.

We believe they fill out our  roster of dedicated children’s authors quite well. Please, give them a hearty welcome.

Eff The Censors

September 26, 2011

Now, now calm down. I needed to get your attention to remind you that this week is Banned Book Week – the national initiative to draw attention to literary censorship.

Every now and then, the mother in me enters the room while the writer in me is working and I’ll notice a curse word in my book or I’ll realize that I have my teenage characters engaged in issues and situations that the readers’ parents may find uncomfortable. During those times, I ask myself two questions:

1) Would the teenage me want this information sanitized simply to make someone who wouldn’t likely read that particular book, anyway, comfortable?

2) Isn’t literature still a “safer” place to put complex issues into context than a 30 minute television show?

And the answers are no and yes, respectively.

I respect that educational institutions and libraries have many masters. And we all know that the funding source is where the buck begins and ends. Piss off too many folks with the money and you’re up a creek without a paddle. But literature has a tough enough time competing for children’s time thanks to streaming video on the internet and television – and those are just two of our competitors – banning books tends to give kids another reason not to read.

Why bother if the story isn’t authentic? And many banned books are banned simply for their authenticity.

Not many of us would find a book about nuns authentic if God wasn’t mentioned or they weren’t portrayed worshipping. Nor can a book about a teen protagonist journeying through life be authentic unless the details of that journey are put on display.

Would Judy Blume’s book, Forever, still be authentic if she hadn’t used the words “balls” or portrayed the protags first sexual experience?

While “balls” could have easily been substituted, there’s this little thing called voice and it was easier to believe the teen protag would use that term over testicles. And, as far as I’m concerned, she had to go into the character’s first time since the book was about the stew of emotions and actions that is first love.

Every banned book can be put under a microscope and dissected. Each scene could be questioned – does this scene need to be there? But doing so misses the point. Books aren’t about scenes, they’re about the entire story. About where the character started and ended and how he or she got there. The devil is in the details and sometimes those details aren’t pretty.

Interested in showing your support for Banned Books Week? Participate in the Virtual Read Out.

The 10 most challenged titles of 2010

And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
Reasons: homosexuality, religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
Reasons: offensive language, racism, religious viewpoint, sex education, sexually explicit, violence, unsuited to age group

Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
Reasons: insensitivity, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit

Crank, by Ellen Hopkins
Reasons: drugs, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit

The Hunger Games (series), by Suzanne Collins
Reasons: sexually explicit, violence, unsuited to age group

Lush, by Natasha Friend
Reasons: drugs, sexually explicit, offensive language, unsuited to age group

What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones
Reasons: sexism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, by Barbara Ehrenreich
Reasons: drugs, inaccurate, offensive language, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint

Revolutionary Voices edited by Amy Sonnie
Reasons: homosexuality, sexually explicit

Twilight (series), by Stephenie Meyer
Reasons: sexually explicit, religious viewpoint, violence, unsuited to age group

Rebels With A Cause

September 9, 2011

Young adult has come a long way. But there will always be those who like to remind YA writers that we musn’t try and sit at the grown-ups table. After all we “only” write for kids.

Why haven’t they figured out that this dismissive attitude only fuels our fire?

I think the mere existence of literature for young people scares some folks to death. Either the books are too liberal and frivolous – full of “inappropriate behavior” or too dark and prone to lead teens to hurt themselves.

I could regale you with stories about adults who I met along the way as I promoted my series, who had no issue declaring they only wanted their young reader to read educational books. But I won’t. Needless to say, most teens (my own teenager included) have a distaste for reading because too often they only have time to read what’s forced down their gullets.

But I digress.

What YA writers get, is teens aren’t aliens who somehow miraculously morph into reasonable adults (and honestly, the actions of our politicians some days has to make most of us question that reasonable part) but individuals trying to find their way along life’s path. And each experience helps them become the adult they will one day be.

YA books don’t teach young adults about suicide, sex, pregnancy and drugs but they merely attempt to address them. While some choose to address the destructive side of the world’s ills, directly, others simply depict lifestyles that include destructive behavior. No matter which path a YA book takes, the general objective is to entertain the reader. You know, just like adult fiction.

The Vermont College of Fine Arts’ Hunger Mountain tackled this topic in great fashion – In Defense of YA – by getting feedback from both YA readers and writers. The feedback from teens may surprise those adult critics who insist teens can’t articulate well or solve complex issues. But for those of us who respect the teen readers, we’re nothing more than proud of these sort of statements:

“What young adult literature does—and adults often fail to do—is acknowledge the intellect of teenagers.” – Manar Haseeb, 17, Garland, TX

“These stories have the potential to make us acknowledge the darkness in the corners of us we didn’t know existed—and, if the timing is just right, provide a light that prevents the shadows from consuming us altogether.” – Emma Allison, 14, London, Ontario

“Dark YA didn’t desensitize me to the problems of the outside world; it connected me to them in so many positive and constructive ways.” – Maggie Desmond-O’Brien, 16, Remer, MN

The readers get it!