Thankful Thursday – The Glass Is Always Full

In the spirit of Thanksgiving in the United States, I’m pledging a year of Thankful Thursdays in 2014. Why? Because the glass is always full.

It’s my answer to the classic question: Is the glass of water half empty or half full?

Pessimists typically answer “half empty,” which focuses on how much water they don’t have. In contrast, optimists typically answer “half full,” which focuses on how much water they do have.  Both answers are correct, and this is a way to remind us that there are always two ways to see the same object.

Well, to be precise, there are more than just two correct ways, and I’ve chosen a third. Because the glass is always full, half full of water and half full of air. This is not an Either/Or situation. It’s a Both/And. All it takes is that small shift in perspective to realize how much is actually in the glass.

So for the rest of 2013 and the entirety of 2014, I’ll be posting Thankful Thursdays. Because the glass is always full, and it’s time to acknowledge and cherish it.

Writing Crossing Cultural Borders – An Introduction

Crossing Cultural Borders, a weekly blog series exploring multicultural children's literature from the United StatesThere’s been a lot of interesting discussion on the internet about the dearth of new multicultural books being published in the United States.  While I agree that we definitely need to publish more diverse books to reflect the growing diversity of our population, I’m also curious as to what has already been published, the kinds of multicultural books available to our children, and what we as readers and writers can learn from what already exists.  This has prompted me to revisit, revise, and update a blog series I wrote with Renee Ting called “Crossing Cultural Borders.”

This will be a weekly blog series, with a new post up every Monday, which I now call Multicultural Monday.  While Renee and I did perform some research, I acknowledge that we cannot catch everything. Your recommendations and constructive comments are welcome.

Also, to clarify a few terms:

1) “Americans” will refer to citizens of the United States.

2) ”People of Color” or “POC” means “not white.” Some POC can pass for white, but they are still POC.

Writing Crossing Cultural Borders – the Inspiration

When I was in the 6th grade, I read Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James Houston, and it changed my life. This slim book is a memoir of Jeanne’s experiences while her family resided in the Manzanar internment camp for Japanese-Americans during World War II. Farewell to Manzanar was a huge influence for me because it was my first and only school-assigned book written by an Asian-American about a uniquely Asian-American experience. Though Jeanne is a second/third generation Japanese-American and I am a first-generation born Chinese-American, I delighted in reading a story about an American girl who looked just like me.

Several years ago I had the opportunity to actually meet Jeanne Wakatuski Houston and James Houston in person. While fighting extreme jet lag from my Florida trip, I made my way to the Foothill Writers’ Conference and attended the Houston’s session entitled “Writing Crossing Cultural Borders.”

The first speaker to arrive in the room, James Houston was a tall, lanky White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) gentleman who was born and raised in California but has roots in the state of Texas. When he found out I grew up in Dallas, Texas, he joked that we could be related. Speaking extemporaneously in a laid back manner, James was an interesting contrast to his wife, Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, a petite Japanese-American woman with long, wavy black hair and a big, wide smile. Jeanne spoke softly, but with fire.

James Houston kicked off the session by listing four kinds of stories that cross cultural borders:

  1. Stories of immigration
  2. Stories of Americans traveling to another culture, where their senses of selves are tested
  3. Stories featuring ethnic minority Americans within America
  4. Stories about a specific ethnicity/culture written by authors who are not originally from that ethnicity/culture

Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston opened discussion by reading her personal essay discussing multicultural America through her experiences. My personal interest was sparked when she described America as transitioning from the traditional melting pot model, where immigrants shed their other culture to assimilate into America, to the more contemporary mosaic model, where immigrants and their children retain and celebrate their cultural heritage, especially in food and language. Because there were writers from Germany, Switzerland, and Denmark attending the session, Jeanne also pointed out the fact that typically we think of multicultural Americans as people of color, but European who immigrate into America are also torn between two cultures.

I left their session extremely inspired, and I wanted to apply their categories to children’s literature, since all the examples James Houston listed were from adult literature.

We will be exploring books grouped under the following topics here on my blog:

  1. Stranger in a Strange Land: Americans Traveling to Other Cultures
  2. Becoming American: Immigration Stories
  3. The Hyphenated American Experience: Voices of Americans Who Are “The Other”
  4. Writing What You Don’t Know: Creating Characters and Stories Outside of One’s Ethnicity and Culture

The scope of multicultural literature for children in the United States is so broad that I had to really narrow down the topics. While comments about all types of multicultural literature are welcome, the focus for this blog series will be realistic, narrative-driven, U.S.-centric books written by predominantly English-speaking authors, which is already a huge list.  Also, the focus of this blog series will be on multicultural books that are traditionally published, since much of the internet commentary was also centered around publishers’ obligations to multiculturalism.

Many of these books I will blog about I’ve read myself, but some of them I found in a library database (Novelist K-8) or listed in this book: Crossing Boundaries with Children’s Books edited by Doris Gebel. Also, my collaborator Renee Ting will contribute several articles based on her over ten year’s experience as a multicultural children’s book publisher.  Special thanks to Claudia Pearson for some book recommendations.

We want to know what multicultural books you have read.  We want to know about your multicultural experiences and your thoughts.  Please feel free to comment!

Publisher’s Weekly Covers Lee & Low’s Acquisition of Shen’s

It was a dream I thought would never happen–to have my first book, Summoning the Phoenix, mentioned in Publisher’s Weekly, which typically only lists really “big” books.  Thanks to the acquisition of Shen’s Books by Lee & Low, this dream came true.

Read the article at Publisher’s Weekly.

Dream for little books
that might grow long legs, sprout wings,
sing sing sing…take flight.

My New Publisher for Summoning the Phoenix

One thing I’ve learned while working on my picture book Summoning the Phoenix is to take everything in stride since unplanned changes often occur.  Well, this is one change that is a delight to announce.  My publisher Shen’s Books has been acquired by Lee & Low, a wonderful NYC-based publisher of multicultural books for children and young adults.  While Lee & Low is now my official publisher, it’s keeping the Shen’s brand name, and Summoning the Phoenix will be the first book to debut under the Shen’s Books imprint in Spring 2014.

Read official notice at Lee & Low’s site.

I’m grateful to my former publisher who gave this little book a chance, and I’m excited to be working with the excellent staff at Lee & Low.