Full Circle with David Almond

What follows is my email correspondence with amazing author and my inspiration, David Almond. David’s letter to me is reprinted with permission:

Dear David,

It’s a thrill to be writing you. My editor Michelle Poploff gave me your email address, because she knows the role you played in launching my career. That might sound funny since you don’t know me, but please let me explain.

Eight years ago, I was teaching language arts and social studies in Brookline, Massachusetts. It was my first year teaching. All the sixth-grade classes in the town were invited to hear you speak at the Coolidge Corner Theater. To prepare, we read Skellig aloud. I immediately fell in love with your book: the characters, the language, the depth, the mystery, the poetry…everything. What was most exciting to me was how you fearlessly challenge young readers to grapple with essential questions of life and death.

When I heard you speak, I was riveted, and all of a sudden, I was struck with the idea that I was going to attempt to write a novel for young readers too. I had no idea whatA Thousand Never Evers my book would be about but I wanted to try. As soon as I got home from school that afternoon, I got to work.

Little did I know how hard—or exhilarating—it would be….But to make a long story short, my book A Thousand Never Evers was published by Delacorte this June, all these years after I heard you speak. And now, having landed with the same wonderful publisher, I have this incredible opportunity to write to you and thank you for being such an inspiration both on and off the page.

Coolidge Corner TheaterAnd just to finish the full-circle effect of this true story, I want to let you know that I’ll be speaking to all the sixth grade students in Brookline at the Coolidge Corner Theater this spring.

Thank you so much. I am a true fan and most grateful for you and your work!

Sincerely,

Shana Burg

Hello, Shana,

It’s great to hear from you. Thank you so much for writing and telling me your story. I remember the dayDavid Almond at Coolidge Corner Theatre very well (8 years ago? 9?). I had a wonderful time there, and it was great to have such a large and appreciative audience. And it’s marvellous to know that the day had such an effect on you–and that the story goes full circle and you will be speaking at Coolidge yourself. Maybe there’ll be someone in your audience who rushes home and starts to write.

Congratulations on A Thousand Never Evers! And on having it published by the wonderful Delacorte. I’d love to have a copy. I wonder if Michelle would send me one. Are you working on a new book?

Jackdaw SummerThe Skellig opera, music by the wonderful American composer, Tod Machover, premiered at the Sage Gateshead in November. It drew big enthusiastic audiences and great reviews. Plans are afoot to bring it to USA at some point. Jackdaw Summer was published in the same month (November) and again has had great reviews. It’ll be published in USA in Fall 09.

The movie of Skellig comes out in the spring (with Tim Roth as Skellig), first on Sky TV, then into cinemas. Next year also brings a UK tour of the Skellig play. The Savage, a collaboration with the visionary artist Dave McKean, is now out in the USA. I’m underway with a new novel, and also writing short stories.

Hard and exhilarating. Yes, that’s what it’s like. Congratulations again. I’m sure our paths will cross some time when I’m over in the USA.

All the best,

David

Posted on 12/22/2008 09:49 am | Comments Off on Full Circle with David Almond

Gimme B-O-O-K-S!

The following is a powerful and important email written by Roy Blount, President of the Authors Guild. It is reprinted with permission:

I’ve been talking to booksellers lately who report that times are hard. And local booksellers aren’t known for vast reserves of capital, so a serious dip in sales can be devastating. Booksellers don’t lose enough money, however, to receive congressional attention. A government bailout isn’t in the cards.

We don’t want bookstores to die. Authors need them, and so do neighborhoods. So let’s mount a book-buying splurge. Get your friends together, go to your local bookstore and have a book-buying party. Buy the rest of your Christmas presents, but that’s just for starters. Clear out the mysteries, wrap up the histories, beam up the science fiction! Round up the westerns, go crazy for self-help, say yes to the university press books! Get a load of those coffee-table books, fatten up on slim volumes of verse, and take a chance on romance!

There will be birthdays in the next twelve months; books keep well; they’re easy to wrap: buy those books now. Buy replacements for any books looking raggedy on your shelves. Stockpile children’s books as gifts for friends who look like they may eventually give birth. Hold off on the flat-screen TV and the GPS (they’ll be cheaper after Christmas) and buy many, many books. Then tell the grateful booksellers, who by this time will be hanging onto your legs begging you to stay and live with their cat in the stockroom: “Got to move on, folks. Got some books to write now. You see…we’re the Authors Guild.”

Enjoy the holidays.

Roy Blount Jr.
President
Authors Guild

And now that we’ve all got the holiday spirit, please check out this blog post from Austin’s acclaimed independent bookseller, BookPeople. It catalogs the fabulous books for young readers written by Austin’s awesome authors!

Posted on 12/15/2008 10:17 am | 1 Comment

As Good As Anybody

As Good As AnybodyLast month I met prize-winning poet and children’s book author Richard Michelson at Austin’s Jewish Book Fair. We were both part of “Civil Rights Sunday.” As soon as I got home from the event, I read my copy of his book, As Good As Anybody: Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Joshua Heschel’s Amazing March Toward Freedom.

As Good As Anybody has a beating heart. It describes the friendship between African American Martin Luther King, Jr. and Jewish Abraham Joshua Heschel. In it, Michelson explains how both men channeled their past experiences with discrimination to fuel their life’s work and devotion to justice.

It was only after I read this beautifully-told and gorgeously-illustrated picture book that I learned the extraordinarily powerful story behind the story: namely, what led to Michelson’s passion for civil rights in the first place. Like the men he writes about, Michelson too transformed a horrible childhood experience into a future devoted to justice. In a fascinating article published on jbook.com, Michelson explains:

When I was born in 1953, my area of East New York, Brooklyn, was 90-percent Jewish. A short 12 years later, while King and Heschel were sharing an historic and stirring moment, symbolizing the coming together of race and religion, less than 10 percent of those living in the neighborhood were Jews. And by the time my Dad was shot on Pitkin Avenue during a robbery attempt, he was just one more Jewish exploiter to the black man who killed him.

Today Michelson is a true educator in every sense of the word. He writes:

I have spent many of my adult years writing books for young children that attempt to address and heal society’s racial wounds; though as likely I am trying to heal the rift within myself.

His outstanding picture book, As Good As Anybody, deserves an audience far beyond elementary school. Any middle, high school, and college students would find plenty to think about and appreciate. In a starred review, Kirkus Reviews calls As Good As Anybody, “Gentle, powerful, and healing.”

As Good As Anybody, written by Richard Michelson, Illustrated by Raul Colon, Knopf

Posted on 12/11/2008 10:54 am | Comments Off on As Good As Anybody

The Power of Youth

The participation of young people made a critical difference in the outcome of the recent presidential election. CIRCLE, The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, reports:

An estimated 23 million young Americans under the age of 30 voted in Tuesday’s presidential election, an increase of 3.4 million compared with 2004…. This year’s youth turnout rivals or exceeds the youth turnout rate of 52% in 1992, which is the highest turnout rate since 1972 (55.4%).

Likewise, back in the 1950s and 1960s, young people played a critical role in charting the future of our nation. During the civil rights movement, children and teenagers bravely faced down police dogs, staged lunch counter sit-ins, and filled jails while parents who couldn’t risk getting fired went to work.

In a recently-released transcript of a 2004 interview, Barack Obama commented on the influence of the civil rights movement on his worldview.

The way I came to Chicago in 1985 was that I was interested in community organizing and I was inspired by the civil rights movement. And the idea that ordinary people could do extraordinary things.

With that in mind, I want to shine the spotlight on a book for young readers called Witnesses to Freedom: Young People Who Fought for Civil Rights by Belinda Rochelle. In just 85 pages, this little book shows how ordinary young people achieved extraordinary things. A review from Reed Business Information says:

While adult leaders’ contributions to the civil rights movement have been well chronicled, those made by young people have not received as much attention. Rochelle relates the pivotal roles played by young African Americans in nine major events, including the integration of Central High School in Little Rock, the Montgomery bus boycott, and the lunch-counter sit-ins at Woolworth in North Carolina.

Published a decade ago, this book is simple, straightforward, and compelling. The author includes interviews with the courageous students who risked a great deal to improve our world. One chapter is devoted to the story of 15-year-old Elizabeth Eckford of the Little Rock Nine, who integrated Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas. Eckford says:

Every day it was something, and often I cried because of the torment that my parents and I went through.

Another chapter describes what happened to 15-year-old Claudette Colvin, who lived in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955, when she refused to give up her seat to a white passenger. Colvin says:

When I refused to get out of that bus seat, I knew that I was going to be arrested. The bus driver and the policeman thought that it was just about a bus seat. It wasn’t just about a seat. I felt the Jim Crow laws were unfair.

Readers may be surprised to learn that Colvin did this months before seamstress Rosa Parks did the same.

Witnesses to Freedom will remind young people—even those too young to vote—of the important role they can play in civic and political life.

Posted on 11/17/2008 01:04 pm | Comments Off on The Power of Youth

Amazon Editors: Best Books of 2008

I’m truly tickled that A Thousand Never Evers is included on the Amazon Editors’ picks for Top 10 Middle Readers! It’s thrilling to be in such wonderful company with the other authors on this list. Here it is:

1. The Underneath, Kathi Appelt

2. The Tales of Beedle the Bard, JK Rowling

3. Chains, Laurie Halse Anderson

4. My One Hundred Adventures, Polly Horvath

5. The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, Jeanne Birdsall

6. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules, Jeff Kinney

7. The Battle of the Labyrinth, Rick Riordan

8. A Thousand Never Evers, Shana Burg

9. The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey, Trenton Lee Stewart

10. Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out

Posted on 11/06/2008 08:53 am | 3 Comments

The Terrific Texas Book Festival

The Texas Book Festival was incredible. Seriously!

Before the event opened to the public, there were a variety of parties and activities so that authors and moderators could meet and mingle. I went to the tour of the LBJ Library, but as soon as I met David Ebershoff and Paula Yoo, I dropped poor LBJ like a hot potato. I mean, he’s not really that interesting compared to this:

David EbershoffDavid, author of The 19th Wife, told me about how he spent four years shuttling between his home in New York and Utah, where he researched polygamy for his highly-acclaimed book.

And when someone asked the tour guide whether it was legal for LBJ’s staff to tape his telephone conversations, author Paula Yoo was fully equipped with the answer. Come to find out, Paula not only released a novelPaula Yoo for young readers titled Good Enough, but also wrote for the hit TV show The West Wing.

The next day, Saturday, the Texas Book Festival was officially underway. Let me tell you, it was truly an honor to sit on a panel with Shelia P. Moses, author of Joseph and several other award-winning novels, and Austin’s own Varian Johnson, author of My Life as a Rhombus.

The topic of the panel was how we create TBF Panelprotagonists different from ourselves. Our thought-provoking moderator was Don Tate, a children’s book illustrator. Don posted a detailed account of our panel discussion on his blog.

The next day, Sunday, I raced out of the house bright and early. I wanted to make sure to get a good seat to hear Kathi Appelt, a beloved Texas author whose book The Underneath was recently nominated for the National Book Award. Kathi and I had a chance to chat before her session, and I immediately understood the buzz –not just about the book but aboutKathi Appelt Kathi.

During her session, Kathi made several excellent points about writing, but if there’s just one I’ll remember years from now, it’ll be this: Writers are like crows. We fly around looking for the shiniest objects we can find. We bring them back to our nests and weave them into our stories. How beautiful! How true!

After the talk, I went out to the children’s tent where I finally got my own signed copy of Kathi’s book. While there, I saw fellow Austinite author Philip Yates working diligently to sign A Pirate’s Night Before ChristmasPhilip Yates for a long line of folks.

Then my husband and son met me in the Children’s Entertainment Tent, where we listened to the most rocking band—I’m not kidding—Super Pal Universe. All the band member are in middle school or high school. There were a hoard of three to five-year-olds grooving in the mosh pit up front. In between songs, band members took turns reading to the audience from P.D. Eastman’s famous picture book, Are You My Mother?Super Pal Universe

Without a doubt, this year’s Texas Book Festival offered something for everyone, big and small. A huge thanks to Clay Smith, the Festival’s organizer, and the legions of volunteers who came out to make sure everything ran smooth as butter.

Posted on 11/03/2008 08:31 pm | Comments Off on The Terrific Texas Book Festival

BEWARE: APPLES FALL FAR FROM TREE!

This week, I went to a Halloween party for the Awesome Austin Writers hosted by adored YA authors Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith. Because I love this group so much, I thought I’d cook something extra special, never mind that I burn toast and leave my noodles to boil until all the water has evaporated.

What could be more Halloweeny and pitch-perfect for a bunch of children’sDecadent and Delicious! writers than caramel apples?

Plus the recipe says they only take ten minutes, plus another 25 for the caramel to harden in the fridge.

Well, being a total non-cook, I completely fell for this scam. Ten minutes? Try ten hours! Plus an additional hour-long visit to the chiropractor, because there’s no way not to throw your back out after you stab 70 apples with flimsy Popsicle sticks.

But let’s back up a second. I don’t put all the blame for my ordeal on the recipe. There are many guilty parties in this frightening tale.

First of all, upon rereading, I have to admit that the recipe does say to buy unwrapped caramels. But the grocery store offered a free package of caramels with each bag of apples I lugged home. Why would I notice if the caramels are the wrapped or unwrapped type when they are the free type and the Dow has just plunged another 500 points?

Picture this: I get home from the grocery store. My fingers work away through an hour-long Oprah show, and I still don’t finish unraveling all those sticky little squares.

Next, I wash and dry all 70 apples. Another hour.

When it’s finally time to plunge the Popsicle sticks into the hearts of these shiny red things, I’m ready. It feels good on a couple of levels. It’s only on the next-to-last apple stab that my rib pops out of place and my husband, Oren, enters the picture.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on 10/20/2008 01:00 pm | 4 Comments

Texas Book Events: Come on Down Y’all!

November is book festival time. People nationwide stop and celebrate books. And personally, I’m gearing up for a busy month of speaking to kids, parents, and teachers, as well as meeting other authors. If you’re in Texas, I’d love to meet you at one of these upcoming events:

1. TEXAS BOOK FESTIVAL

When: Saturday, November 1st, 2008, 3:30-4:30pm

Where: Capitol Extension Room E1.016. Texas State Capitol Building in Austin.

Details: Join authors Varian Johnson, Shelia P. Moses, and me for what’s sure to be an intriguing panel discussion. In a session titled “I Haven’t Been Myself Lately: My Life as a Writer,” we’ll reveal what it’s like to write protagonists different from ourselves.

2. JEWISH BOOK FAIR

When: Sunday, November 9th, 2008, 10-11am

Where: JCC, Austin

Details: I can’t wait for this year’s Jewish Book Fair at the JCAA in Austin! My father, Harvey Burg, and I will be speaking together about the Jewish connection to the civil rights movement. This event is targeted to students in grades 5 to 8 and their parents, yet all are welcome.

3. HOLIDAY PARTY AT BOOKPEOPLE

When: Thursday, November 13th, 2008, 6:30-9:30pm

Where: BookPeople, 6th & Lamar, Austin

Details: The Austin chapter of the Society of Children’s Books Writers & Illustrators will host its annual holiday party from 6:30pm to 9:30pm. Picture book, middle grade, and young adult authors will sign their books and chat with readers. Children, tweens, teens, parents. teachers, librarians and literature lovers of all varieties are invited!

4. TEXAS STATE READING ASSOCIATION CONFERENCE

“Travel the World and Back: Read!”

When: Friday, November 14th, 2008

Where: Crowne Plaza Hotel, Austin

Details: I’ll be speaking about why I wrote A Thousand Never Evers, and how to engage students in the study of civil rights. The whole lineup looks great this year!

5. CHOICES IN LITTLE ROCK WORKSHOP

Presented by Facing History and Ourselves

When: Sunday, November 16th, 2008

Where: Houston Holocaust Museum

Details: Educators, trust me, if you can get to Houston, you won’t want to miss this! We’ll explore the Facing History and Ourselves resource book, Choices in Little Rock–a collection of teaching suggestions, activities and primary sources that focus on the desegregation of Central High High School in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957. In the afternoon, I’ll speak about civil rights education and my book, A Thousand Never Evers.

Posted on 10/12/2008 01:47 pm | Comments Off on Texas Book Events: Come on Down Y’all!

A Fairy Tale in Pakistan

With all the bad news coming out of Pakistan this week, I’d like to turn the spotlight on one woman who appears to be a Pakistani angel for the children in her country. Her name is Basarat Kazim. And she has devoted her life to connecting poor Pakistani children with books. “Reading gives the imagination a boost,” she says, “and it creates empathy for other children and other cultures.”

Basarat happened to pick up my book, A Thousand Never Evers, while she was visiting her children in Austin, Texas. She emailed and asked me to coffee. That’s when I learned all about her efforts to bring books to children.

Back in 1979, Basarat began work with the Alif Laila Book Bus. Instead of passengers, the double decker bus heldKids in Alif Laila Library Bus books and served as a lending library for children in Lahore. While the Alif Laila Book Bus was stationary, today there is a new bus called “The Storyteller” that travels carrying books from village to village.

Basarat also started a school in a tent for the Bihari people who lived in a squatter project. “They were a disheartened people,” she explains. “These Bihari people had lost hope. They had no running water. The children went to market to sell wares instead of to school. And since they wouldn’t go to a regular school, I brought the school to them.”

The children in the Bihari village went to Basarat’s school in the tent three hours every day. She says they picked up literacy and numeracy very quickly. But on the other side of the airfield from the Bihari village was a colony of Pathans.

Basarat explains: “The Pathan people watched us come and go to the school in a tent for a year. Then they said, ‘What about us?’ So I struck a deal with these villagers on the other side of the airstrip. I said, ‘We will teach your children, if you help me build the school.’ After the school was finished, I said to them, ‘You built an amazing school. Just one thing. You have to let girls come too.’ And they actually agreed.”

“The girls say it was like a dream come true,” Basarat says. “One girl wanted to be a doctor. Her father recently passed away and now she’s getting married off. She told me, ‘Whatever I have learnt will help me raising my children. I will ensure my sons and daughters go to school.’’”

Of course, Basarat’s work is not finished. She is now starting a program called Scheherezade Ka Khazana–or in English, Scheherezade’s Treasure Trove. She explains, “I am in the process of setting up 48 libraries in cupboards.”

“Excuse me? Did you say cupboards?” I ask.

“Yes, cupboards,” she tells me. “The schools have no place for a library but we will store 1,001 books in the cupboards of each school.”

These cupboards are being specially designed with images from the story of The Thousand and One Nights, and they will also contain a Scheherezade puppet theatre. This project is being supported by IKEA and Save the Children Alliance.

Basarat Kazim would love to hear from librarians or authors who have suggestions about how to help children become life-long readers. Also, Scheherezade’s Treasure Trove needs a constant supply of books to continue. If you would like to help with the project, please contact Basarat Kazim at bmk_al@yahoo.com

Posted on 09/24/2008 08:36 am | 3 Comments

Actress Kenya Brome

Actress Kenya Brome When I first heard a clip from the audio CD version of A Thousand Never Evers, goose bumps sprang up over my entire body. I couldn’t believe what a spot-on job Listening Library did casting it.

Dr. Teri Lesesne, a.k.a. the Goddess of YA Literature, writes, “The narrator of this audio, Kenya Brome, is perfection. She gives singular voice to Addie, creating something that moves beyond the text.” (Click here to listen to a clip from the CD.)

Kenya has worked as an actor in New York since she was a child. Her many theater credits include Tranced, A Young Lady From Rwanda, and Valley Song. Her television credits include Law & Order, Third Watch, Law & Order Criminal Intent, and All My Children. She was also in the award-winning commercials for Citibank Identity Theft Protection.

I recently caught up with Kenya. She told me about her experience recording the audio CD for A Thousand Never Evers:

“Working on A Thousand Never Evers was a rewarding experience. I got a sense of accomplishment by telling this story. I felt like I was contributing to the civil rights movement by helping to convey some of what life was like for black people in this country not too long ago.

I read the book quickly a few days before the first session, and I made some mental notes on how to vocally approach a few characters, but I was acting on my feet. Sometimes the director said that I was too much of a perfectionist in my trying to get the best or what I felt was a natural or an ‘authentic’ read on some sections; but I didn’t want to just get through it. I wanted to give my best; the same attention to detail and specificity that I would give to a stage performance, because all the audience has is my voice to help the listener hear and visualize the story.

“I hope the recording of A Thousand Never Evers can be a tool to help young people get a sense of themselves in the historical context of this country. It’s very unfortunate how people today dishonor the memory and fight of the civil rights movement by cavalierly using ‘the N word’ in their everyday language. That gives everyone license to abuse that word and ingrain its connotations into the fabric of society. Thousands of Black people were killed and oppressed with the venom of the N-word. Why make it the catch phrase of so-called hipness?”

In a few weeks, Kenya will be packing up to work in a play out of town; a regional production of August Wilson’s Joe Turner’s Come and Gone at the Berkeley Repertory Theater, directed by the Tony nominated film star Delroy Lindo. She also has a supporting role in an upcoming film called Order of Redemption starring Tom Berringer, Armand Assante, and Busta Rhymes.

Click here to order the audio CD from Amazon.com.

Posted on 09/09/2008 06:37 pm | 1 Comment
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