School Visit Season – Virtually!

My school visit season began this September with a marvelous visit to Frederica Academy (virtually, of course)! Unfortunately, my chronic shoulder injury is also acting up, so I may not be able to celebrate every other school visit this fall, as I’ll be limiting social media activity a little. Especially as I’m hard at work on my next novel, BORN BEHIND BARS, scheduled for release next fall (October 2021) from Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin Random House!

As COVID continues, I haven’t been able to attend any of the many marvelous award ceremonies for THE BRIDGE HOME, but then again, it means I receive the best mail ever this year – as most of the awards have been sent to me by the wonderful US postal service. Memories of these wonderful hugs from friends keep me going, and I feel so lucky to have my spouse and child with me…

That said, I have Weekly Wednesday Writing Prompts planned for the rest of the school semester and the first one was posted on twitter this week. I hope they’ll not only provide a quick idea to spur some writing, but also introduce everyone to some excellent diverse books, especially those released this year. Occasionally, the writing prompts will be combined with a book giveaway.

I’m also hoping to have this website updated soon, with descriptions of virtual visits, as I now have a new menu of possibility…

Stay well, stay safe, stay healthy!

The Bridge Home represents RI at the National Book Festival!

The Bridge Home represents RI at the National Book Festival
What a busy few months it’s been. Not always easy, but certainly busy. I’ve been writing so many other articles that I haven’t had time to write a blog post for a while:

an Author’s Quarantine Stories post for PW
Weeding Out Racism’s Invisible Roots ( published by SLJ )
and Examining Our Own Biases ( published in India Currents ).

The PW article is a personal reflection on the COVID-19 influenced my writing these past few months; Weeding Out Racism’s Invisible Roots challenges us to re-examine our attitudes toward “Classic” literature; and Examining Our Own Biases delves into some of the many reasons why brown people / Asians / South Asian Indian Americans should care about BLM and how we can support and work together, as allies, with African Americans.

In addition, I’ve been hard at work on my next novel (which my wonderful editor Nancy Paulsen would like me to have ready for release in fall next year).

The Bridge Home has also continued to be blessed with many honors, for which I’m deeply grateful. To my knowledge, it’s been shortlisted for 10 state awards so far (nominee for TX Bluebonnet, FL SSYRA, VA, RI, GA, MN, WI, KY, VT, ME) & Japan’s Sakura Medal. I am incredibly thankful to my home state for choosing THE BRIDGE HOME for the National Book Festival. Such an immense honor.

If you live in RI, the Providence Community Library and RI Festival of Books and Authors is hosting a free virtual event on Monday 13th July, which includes an opportunity to get copies of THE BRIDGE HOME free of charge. The press release is pasted below.
Maybe I’ll see you!

Padma

Youth Fiction Novel is Rhode Island’s 2020 Pick for National Book Festival Award
PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Join Providence Community Library’s PVD READS Book Club on Monday, July 13th at 6P.M. for a virtual, intergenerational book discussion of The Bridge Home, featuring the book’s author, Padma Venkatraman. The conversation will be moderated by Meagan Lenihan, who is Lincoln School Librarian and Director of the Rhode Island Festival of Children’s Books and Authors and co-hosted by Rhode Island Center for the Book and Providence Community Library. Tickets for the free Zoom event are available on Eventbrite.
Venkatraman’s stirring middle-grade debut follows the fortunes of four determined homeless children. Life is harsh in Chennai’s teeming streets, so when runaway sisters Viji and Rukku arrive, their prospects look grim.  With two homeless boys, Muthi and Arul, the group forms a family of sorts and while making a living scavenging the city’s trash heaps is the pits, the kids find plenty to laugh about and take pride in too. But when illness strikes, Viji must decide whether to risk seeking help from strangers or to keep holding on to their fragile, hard-fought freedom. 
The Bridge Home, published by Penguin Books, is Rhode Island’s 2020 submission for the National Book Festival in Washington, DC. Every year, the Library of Congress asks each state Center for the Book to select a title that represents their state as part of the Great Reads From Great Places initiative. The Bridge Home has received eight starred reviews since its publication in 2019, is the winner of a Walter Award, Golden Kite Award, Nerdy Book Award, Paterson Prize, Crystal Kite Award, and Audiophile Earphone Award, in addition to garnering numerous other honors. 
RI Center of the Book Director, Kate Lentz said “we are thrilled to partner on this PCL READS event. Padma’s book touches on social justice issues that affect children all over the world and it is the perfect pick for this Rhode Island intergenerational book club!”
Padma Venkatraman served as chief scientist on research vessels in Germany, directed a school in England, worked in a laboratory at Johns Hopkins University, and obtained her doctorate in oceanography at the College of William and Mary before becoming a full-time author. Her most recent novel, Her previous novels, A Time to Dance, Climbing the Stairs and Island’s End were also all released to multiple starred reviews and gained several awards and honors. Born in India, Venkatraman was sworn in as a citizen of the United States in Rhode Island, which is now her home.
READ THE BOOKContact Kate at kate@ribook.org to get a set of books for your class or group.
GET TICKETSVisit this page. The event is free but registration is required. Attendees will  receive an email on the morning of the event with a link to join via Zoom.By registering, attendees agree to the terms of the event’s behavior policy.
About  PCL READS
Do you love talking about books with other book lovers? Have you been searching for an intellectual, fun and easy-going book discussion to join? Look no further! Amy Rosa from the Washington Park Library and Lee Smith from the Mount Pleasant Library, two of the nine, neighborhood locations of Providence Community Library,  have launched PCL READS— the citywide, one book, one community book discussion—and they want YOU to accompany them at their next meeting! 
About  RI Festival of Children’s Books & Authors
Rhode Island may be the smallest state, but it boasts one of the largest and best book festivals in the nation. Authors and illustrators travel to Providence every October for the opportunity to be featured in The Rhode Island Festival of Children’s Books & Authors, hosted by Lincoln School.
Learn about future PCL READS events, as well as all Providence Community Library services and programs, at provcomlib.org .
At a BLM protest, holding posters containing quotes by Gandhi-ji, Rev. Dr. MLK Jr. and Bayard Rustin, with author friend Marlo Gansworthy

#AuthorsTakeAction moving forward…

Yesterday  was amazing. A hashtag that began with one tweetIMG-3232 grew into something that, according to this wonderful PW article, “went viral.” I actually wasn’t paying attention.  I’d promised every author that I would respond and amplify their signals and at one point it started coming in really fast, then my ig wouldn’t refresh or keep up so I sort of left ig hoping my friends, like  Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich , Leslie Connor , Stacey, Victoria and Alison who are better at it would keep that going, and I concentrated on twitter. Then Stacey Lee wrote an email, followed by Victoria Coe, to say – hey – look, respond to this request from PW!

StaceyLee

I am so grateful for the article, as well as for this other incredible article in the ProJo but before I say anymore I want to reiterate 2 things. This idea, this hashtag, would be nowhere if it weren’t for the simple idea that was Aida Salazar‘s brainwave, help from the group that grew and grew (including, in addition to those mentioned, Sarah Aronson, Alison Green Myers, Chris Tebbetts, Elly Swartz, Megan Hoyt, Laura Shovan, Miranda Paul, Lyn Miller Lachmann, Kristin Russo) and many who spontaneously rallied around the cause (like Aliana Lavoie, Caroline Richmond, Kathi Appelt and Susan Ross), and if you want me to add you to this list, please tell me, after a while I lost track of who was RTng), and wonderful support from the wonderful WNDB organization which encouraged diverse authors to participate and focused clearly on the steps to 1) Write a thoughtful message on a piece of paper or post it-note, for young people, and about social distancing 2) Take a selfie and post this on twitter with the hashtag #AuthorsTakeAction. Finally, this wouldn’t have happened if the kind, giving, caring kid lit community hadn’t come together. I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude.

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If you didn’t get in on the action and would like to keep it going, please do. I just ask that you remember to take time to compose the message with care, keeping in mind your audience kids/teens/youngadults (or teachers or librarians who connect with kids). While reading is certainly important, and some of the post-its even above were about reading, as in this tweet, I really prefer, as I say here, if future messages focus on continuing to maintain social distance, acting responsibly, and getting information from reliable places. As I said in this message on twitter, speaking directly to readers, authors write about heroes, in one way or another and sometimes – like right now – we need small acts of heroism.

IMG_3241So many people had wonderful messages. I was so very deeply honored that Jacqueline Woodson mentioned it on fb live. Ibi Zoboi wrote 2 tweets that were from the heart and addressed one of the issues we discussed as a group and I believe mentioned on the final version of the letter we sent (and I wanted to update my blog but at that point it wouldn’t allow me to do that anymore).  This is something to be sensitive to, as this moves forward. Home isn’t always a safe place for everyone or a joyful place for everyone. Not everyone has a home. The Bridge Home features homeless kids.

IMG-3229Easily the most creative (okay, so my favorite message) came from Mihn Le (sorry I spent 10 mins and couldn’t figure out how to put the accent on the e) created an incredible, thoughtful, creative, and ever-so practical video showing what 6 ft is. Kate Messner‘s tweet also directly addressed readers, which was just what I hoped for and was thoughtful. My author-brother (we have the same marvelous editor, Nancy Paulsen) Torrey Maldonado, Grace Lin, Linda Sue Park, Traci Sorrell, Nikki Grimes, Margarita Engle, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Meg Medina, Jarrett Krozowska, Jarrett Lerner and so many other authors I love chimed in. So did educators I deeply admire, such as Donalyn Miller, Matthew Winner, Julia Erin Torres, Pernille Ripp, Colby Sharp, Jarrett Amato and John Schu. I am deeply grateful for all their support.

IMG_3236For those who wonder why #AuthorsTakeAction is important, why what we did together as a community of kid lit authors matters, I refer you to this important and informative tweet threads by awesome authors and medical doctors Illene Wong and Ismee Williams . I hope I can do something featuring them soon, although I am sure they are way too busy for interviews. Some way to thank those authors who are also on the frontlines.

IMG-3230Yesterday, with all that happened, at one point my browser wasn’t refreshing fast enough. If I didn’t reply, I wasn’t trying to ignore you – it got really super-fast. And it’s not like this is over. As a scientist, I can assure you that there is the possibility of catastrophic loss before the curve flattens if we don’t take action and it means a lot when a group makes a concerted effort to send a clear message. So please continue to add your messages and tag #AuthorsTakeAction. It was launched yesterday, but I would love for it to keep going.

 

IMG-3228The only thing I beg is that you use your platform (we’re using our books because we’re not celebs who are recognized by our faces, our “platform” is our books) to center the message. Please remember this is about reaching readers with a specific message to help those on the frontlines by keeping new infections down. I don’t want this to become a way to push our books on kids. That’s not what this is about.

VictoriaCoeI know there’s a lot of concern right now in the writing community about lost “gigs.” I am not sure if any of my engagements will actually happen, and that means a huge loss of income. Yes, that’s tough. Truly hard. But this virus is bigger than all of us, and all of our books. #AuthorsTakeAction is not, and I never want it to be, about selling anything. Here, books should only be a means to connect a message to an author, an author who truly wishes to send an important message about social distancing to readers with all their heart.

LauraShovanIn the future, I’m hoping this will become an annual event. Perhaps every April – maybe earlier or later in spring so it doesn’t happen right around Easter/Passover/Hindu New Year’s Day, we the kid lit community could come together to rally around and support a specific humanitarian message. We might give ourselves more time to prepare so we can create really special and thoughtful messsages geared toward our readers. I’d love to partner more closely with WNDB and LatinX in kidlit and Las Musas. I’d love to ensure the effort actively invites, includes and involves diverse authors and reaches underserved populations.

IMG-3231More on that, next week. For now, just thanks to all of you who participated in the spirit of sending a message and your overwhelming and humbling collective positive energy.

If you’d like to see the final version of the letter with details on how to write a sensitive message, here it is:

We’re launching a hashtag campaign #AuthorsTakeAction this Thursday, April 9th, to show our readers that we stand together by being apart.

Why? Because if we don’t act together, soon, the toll taken by COVID19 will only increase. A parent recently mentioned that teens and children are having difficulty understanding the need to take social distancing seriously. Our readers are frustrated and looking for guidance from people they trust: celebrities, athletes, teachers, authors. Let’s use our platform to reach them with an important message (especially given the misinformation that continues to spread): Take social distancing seriously. Save lives. Our emergency personnel need our support.

 What do you need to do? Take a copy of one of your books and put a sticky note on it with hashtag #AuthorsTakeAction. Snap a selfie with the book and post-it. Provide a short message that might read/say: “Stay in place. Read Books. Stay Safe.” Or “Hold books in your hands. Hold people in your hearts.”  Or “Show Your Love, Keep Your Distance.” Or “Get close to book characters. Stay 6 ft away from strangers.” Or something from your own heart to encourage our readers to maintain physical distancing and stay healthy.

 Other hashtags to conside:  #socialdistancing  #thankyoufirstresponders #thankyouhealthcareheroes #thankyouessentialworkers #socialdistancingnow. 

 On Thursday, April 9th, to help us boost your signal, here are our social media handles if you wish to 

follow us on Twitter:

@padmatv (Padma Venkatraman), @sarah_aronson (Sarah Aronson), @MimaWrites (Aida Salazar), @StaceyLeeAuthor (Stacey Lee),  @Olugbemisola (Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich), @alisongmyers (Alison Green Myers), @ellyswartz (Elly Swartz), @laurashovan (Laura Shovan), @LeslieConnor29 (Leslie Connor), @Miranda_Paul (Miranda Paul), @christebbetts (Chris Tebbetts), meganhoytwrites (Megan Hoyt)

and on IG: 

@venkatraman.padma (Padma Venkatraman), @alisongreenmyers (Alison Green Myers), @olugbemisolarhudayperkovich (Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich), StaceyLeeAuthor (Stacey Lee), @aida_writes (Aida Salazar), @sarahnaronson (Sarah Aronson), @ellyswartzbooks (Elly Swartz), @laurashovan (Laura Shovan), @heyleslieconnor (Leslie Connor), @MirandaPaulBooks (Miranda Paul), @christebbetts (Chris Tebbetts), meganhoytwrites (Megan Hoyt)

We’d also love for you to spread the word by forwarding this email to other friends and tagging them on Thursday. Here is a detailed post from Padma on her blog giving even more information: https://padmavenkatraman.com/

 Won’t you take two minutes to help spread this important message? 

If you’re truly able to do more and can honestly commit time and devote some serious energy to helping us spread the word and boost other people’s messages on Thursday, you are welcome to add your social media handles and names to the email – and let me know please and I will update my letter and blog accordingly (though probably not immediately). This project would be nowhere without the help of the first friends who were so enthusiastic – and this is about embracing and being inclusive and this effort belongs to everyone who is willing to put in time and energy. 

Just please remember, this isn’t about selling books, it’s about using the platform we have to send a message. It’s about solidarity and showing the world we’re taking the physical distancing suggestions seriously. It’s about coming together as individuals and a caring community to spread a message that we must take this seriously and behave in a caring and responsible manner. 

Thanks, stay safe, stay well. 

Padma
THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK U
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#AuthorsTakeAction

Unusual times, unusual measures. I don’t usually blog more than once a month, but an idea popped into my head that I can’t get rid of.

Last week, I heard from a parent and then a teacher, both of whom were speaking about how hard it is for young people to stay home. Yesterday, when I was taking a walk on a beach, I saw a group of teens playing contact football. They were crying “Stay 6 feet away!” as though it were a joke.

At first, I felt powerless, but then I remembered listening to Julia Erin Torres at the Kweli conference, and her words made me feel empowered.

What if authors were to take action on social media, using a simple hashtag, #AuthorsTakeAction, to show that we’re taking this pandemic seriously? What if we were to do something quick and simple – just take photographs of ourselves wearing home-made PPE, or create a quick video message?

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So I reached out to a few author friends: Aida Salazar, Sarah Aronson, and Alison Green Myers. Aida Salazar came up with the brilliant suggestion that we might also put sticky notes on our books, with the hashtag and a simple note?

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Sarah’s suggestion was that I write this open letter to the community right away, even as I am just thinking of this idea and working with friends to help develop it. Alison Green Myers suggested some other pithy messages that authors could add via video or a caption:“Stay safe. Read Books. Save Lives.” Or “The safety of others is in your hands.”  Or “Show Your Love, Keep Your Distance.” and other hashtags we might also add: #TakeShelterInStory #ShelterInPlace #socialdistancing and #thankyoufirstresponders.

Last night, the 4 of us,  with  Stacey Lee and Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, the other two friends whom I approached, will be contacting friends to let them know:

We’re launching a hashtag campaign #AuthorsTakeAction on Thursday, April 9th to show our readers that we stand together by being apart.

Why? Because if we don’t act together, soon, the toll taken by COVID19 will only increase. Our readers are frustrated and looking for guidance from people they trust: celebrities, athletes, teachers, authors. Let’s use our platform to reach them with an important message: Take social distancing seriously. Save lives. Our emergency personnel need our support.

 What do you need to do? Take a copy of one of your books and put a sticky note on it with hashtag #AuthorsTakeAction. Snap a selfie with the book and post-it. Provide a short message that might read/say: “Stay in Place. Read Books. Stay Safe.” Or “Hold books in your hands. Hold people in your heart.”  Or “Show Your Love, Keep Your Distance.” Or “Get close to book characters. Stay 6 ft away from strangers.” Or something from your own heart to encourage our readers to take social distancing seriously and stay healthy.

On Thursday, April 9th, to help us boost your signal, here are our handles, in case you wish to follow us on Twitter:

 @padmatv (Padma Venkatraman), @sarah_aronson (Sarah Aronson), @MimaWrites (Aida Salazar), alisongmyers (Alison Green Myers), @ellyswartz (Elly Swartz), @victoriajcoe (Victoria Coe), @laurashovan (Laura Shovan), @leslieconnor29 (Leslie Connor), @christebbetts (Chris Tebbetts), @Miranda_Paul (Miranda Paul), @meganhoytwrites (Megan Hoyt)

and on IG:

@venkatraman.padma (Padma Venkatraman), @sarahnaronson (Sarah Aronson) and @aida_writes (Aida Salazar), @alisongreenmyers (Alison Green Myers), @ellyswartzbooks (Elly Swartz), @victoriajcoe (Victoria Coe), @laurashovan (Laura Shovan), @heyleslieconnor (Leslie Connor), @christebbetts (Chris Tebbetts), @MirandaPaulBooks (Miranda Paul), @meganhoytwrites (Megan Hoyt)

We’d also love for you to spread the word by forwarding this email to other friends and tagging them on Thursday. Won’t you take two minutes to help spread the message that social distancing is important? 

As you can see from the letter, our “little army” as Aida calls it, has grown, to include other amazing authors: Elly Swartz, Victoria Coe, Leslie Connor,  Laura Shovan, Chris Tebbetts, Miranda Paul, Megan Hoyt. If you are truly interested in helping us spread the word (by emailing others) and committed to boosting other people’s messages on Thursday, please feel free to add your name and social media handles to the letter when you share it and just let me know, so I can update this blog accordingly (though probably not immediately). Everyone is welcome to join in. This is my invitation to you all. I started this project, but it would be nowhere without the support of friends. I want everyone in our community to feel included and embraced. Please just remember, our message is not about selling books, it’s about trying to save lives in our small way.

If you are an illustrator, you are obviously totally geared to doing this the best possible way visually. And if you a “pre-published” author as Laurie Halse Anderson called it years ago, you are of course welcome to participate. Just post the sign on your manuscript or work-in-progress! No hierarchies here. This is about something larger than all of us that we need to unite to fight.

I truly hope our community of caring authors will coalesce around this cause –   beginning here on this page, beginning in our kid lit community, but inclusive of all authors everywhere, urging us to come together in solidarity and send this simple message to our readers of all ages, to parents, to teachers, to the world. The sooner we all take steps to show we care, the sooner this will pass. There’s a time for everything – and right now, it’s time to act socially responsible by staying physically distant. It’s not about me or you – it’s about us.

IMG-3228So if you’re reading this post and you’re an author – please consider taking a moment to act and spread the word. Hope to see you #AuthorsTakeAction on twitter (@padmatv) and ig (venkatraman.padma) this Thursday, 8 April. Thanks. Stay safe, stay well and stay patient. Sending sincerest and best wishes,

Padma Venkatraman

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Writing Wednesdays, Meditative Mondays and more…

Thanks so much for visiting my blog! Given what we’re facing as a world, I wanted to do my little bit to help out and so, here’s what I’m hoping and planning to do:

Every week, by Wednesday, I’ll be uploading a short writing prompt (in April, as it’s national poetry month, these will be poetry prompts) on YouTube and Twitter. My first prompt was included in last month’s blog post. The latest prompt (below) draws inspiration in part from William Wordsworth’s Daffodils (a poem quoted in my debut novel CLIMBING THE STAIRS because it was my mother’s favorite poem and the novel is loosely based on her life as a teenager in India during WWII). This writing prompt also draws inspiration from Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple‘s poetry book, EEK, YOU REEK!

Wondering how these two rather different-sounding quotes (” When oft upon my couch I lie /In vacant or in pensive mood/ They flash upon the inward eye/ Which is the bliss of solitude / And then my heart with pleasure fills / And dances with the daffodils” by Wordsworth and “Eek you reek / You make a funk / Where you have been / You stink stank stunk” by Yolen and Stemple) might be related? Watch:

I’m also planning to share a short, inspirational and motivational meditation on the writing life – or just more generally the creative life, every Monday, starting sometime this month.

In addition, so far and so long as I can, I’m hoping to host a book giveaway each month on twitter. We just received a stay-in-place order, so this means I will likely only be able to mail the winner a book once this order is lifted. This week, I am doing a paired book giveaway with my dear friend Leslie Connor. If you follow me on twitter (@padmatv) you’ll see that I’m giving away a signed copy of her latest, A HOME FOR GODDESSES AND DOGS and she’s giving away a signed copy of my latest, THE BRIDGE HOME on ig (heyleslieconnor).

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I recently received my first copy of THE BRIDGE HOME with the beautiful golden Walter Dean Myers Award seal on the cover, as you can see!

Given all that we’re facing right now as a nation, we’re in discussion about whether  to pause my monthly COOKING UP STORIES writing prompt (featuring a book and paired with a recipe by Chef Amanda) at Highlights Foundation for a few months, and resume it when things take a more positive turn. In the meantime, however, the Highlights Foundation is hosting many free online events. Last week, I had a wonderful chat hosted by my dear friend Sara Aronson for the Highlights Foundation’s community gathering last week (here’s the link).

This month, I’ll be participating in two afternoon panels at the Kweli conference online this Saturday, April 4th; and on Wednesday, April 8th at noon EST at the VCBF’s Facebook page (I’ll be doing a free webinar online that they’re hosting), and later in April, I’ll be contributing to the Texas Library Association’s Annual Conference online (April 20-21st). Maybe I’ll see you there?

I thought I’d also share some useful links I came across for school-aged kids (and parents and teachers) that provide useful scientific mini-lessons: NOAA is hosting webinars for school age children, including by my dear friend Catalina Martinez: https://seagrant.whoi.edu/suggested-educational-resources-for-use-during-school-closures/webinars-noaa-live/; here’s a link for those interested in meteorology : https://www.weather.gov/learning; and The Mosaic Expedition has put together a collection of resources on the Arctic:  https://mosaic.colorado.edu/education/mosaic-mondays/mosaic-monday-march-23-2019. So that’s for the oceanographer in me!

Finally, here’s a list of organizations that would surely be happy to have you contribute, if you can, at this  difficult times: No Kid Hungry which strives to provide every kid in the USA with at least a healthy lunch especially at this time when school lunches are being shut down because of COVID19, #FirstRespondersFirst which I’m told is doing its best to provide health care professionals with all they need, (and of course others I’ve mentioned earlier, such as ASHA for education , Books are Wings , The Concerned For Working Children, Sankara Eye Foundation, CRY, Freedom TrustV-excelCommunity Volunteers in Education, Engineers Without Borders, Environmental Energy Study Institute, Global Green Grants Fund, Southern Environmental Law Center, Wild Aid, Wild Net, kiva).

It’s a strange episode in the history of humanity that we’re living through right now, and I ardently hope that just as the characters in THE BRIDGE HOME are brought even closer together by the calamities they face, we’ll come together to work for peace in our world in the face of this new challenge we’re facing. It’s not easy for anyone right now, but if we can thinking of giving as much as we can (even giving something as small as a smile to a stranger while maintaining your physical distance), and not taking more than necessary (so avoiding to the urge to stockpile and not taking every last bit of any particular item), I think it helps.

Oh my gosh – I almost forgot to share some lovely news. THE BRIDGE HOME won the Paterson Prize! Award-winning and critically acclaimed author and poet Peter Johnson (AMAZING ADVENTURES OF JOHN SMITH JR. AKA HOUDINI) referred to this as a “trifecta” of awards for THE BRIDGE HOME(the Paterson Prize, the SCBWI Golden Kite and the WNDB Walters Award). THE BRIDGE HOME is also on a few more children’s choice state awards lists, most notably in Virginia (a state where I lived for several years as a graduate student) and the Texas Bluebonnet, and on the Bank Street College of Education’s annual best book list, along with THANK U, a collection of poems edited by Miranda Paul, to which I contributed a tanka about a mathematical invention!

Until next month, when I plan to provide links in this monthly blogpost-newsletter to  Monday meditations and Wednesday Writing prompts posted in the interim! To leave comments, as always:

Thank U, stay safe, stay healthy, stay well! And in case you missed it, here’s a previous writing prompt about Sense of Place.

Going Viral while Cooking Up Stories

The past few weeks have been quite a shock for everyone, I’m sure. Not even my older friends or the senior citizens in my family have ever lived through a global pandemic. At this difficult time, it’s important to remember, I think, how lucky we are that this virus isn’t more virulent, and how fortunate some of us are to live in a part of the world where we can take our access to clean water and soap and food for granted.

Of course, not all of us, even in the United States, are doing well. So if you are a citizen of the United States, before I say anymore, I want to urge you, if you’re able, to consider donating to this organization, which is helping out with kids who are going hungry in the United States because of this global pandemic: NoKidHungry. As I’ve always said before, when I discussed THE BRIDGE HOME, hunger is a problem even here in the United States. It always has been. And now, because of this virus, it’s affecting more kids than before here – and, of course, all over the world. So, if anyone’s wondering if this virus is causing havoc, it is – globally. There are so many who are going to suffer so very much because of this pandemic, and we need to do all we can to prevent it from having an even greater negative impact.

Most understandably, of course, all my visits to schools and the festivals I was looking forward to this spring have been cancelled. Even the ceremony at which the Walters Award for Young Readers was to be presented for THE BRIDGE HOME was cancelled – and I completely understand, support and applaud WNDB’s decision.

Given I shan’t be seeing too many of you, thanks to the SCBWI, among other things, I’ve been inspired to create, with my child, a video we created, along with a Q & A about viruses (and explanations of exponential growth curves in her own words), a writing prompt and a recipe, and I’ll be posting one a day for 5 days, until next Wednesday, on my YouTube channel. Here’s the first one:

Next Wednesday, 25 March, I’m honored to’ve been invited by my dear author friend Sarah Aronson to be her guest on the Highlights Foundation‘s website for a #virtual community #HFGather interview at 10:00 a.m. United States EST.

As you know, I’ll continue to post a COOKING UP STORIES prompt, the first Friday of every month, paired with a recipe by Chef Amanda, also on the Highlights Foundation’s website (Foodie Fridays)! I hope you’ll enjoy the the most recent pairing, featuring MANGO, ABUELA AND ME by Meg Medina (illustrated by Angela Dominguez).

I’m hoping to do what little I can to help teachers and students around the world. On the 14th of April, I’ll be posting a writing challenge on Dr. Sarah J. Donovan’s website: www.ethicalela.com .

Before that, I’ll be doing a livestreaming session on the Virginia Children’s Book Festival’s facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/vachildrensbookfestival so I hope to see you next week!

So stay safe, remember our moral responsibility is to act out of a sense of care for everyone around us. I really hope this difficult and unexpected challenge will help us come together as a world, so we may, with greater preparation and in a climate of peace, fight off some of the other challenges that face us in the future. For now, safety is all-important, and of the highest priority – so wash your hands, properly, isolate yourself physically as much as possible, learn what you can from reliable websites such as those belonging to the WHO, NIHCDC, or my dear old university Johns Hopkins, and remember that physical isolation doesn’t stop us from sending virtual hugs.

And if you have any questions, here’s a very short video (below) that shows you how to leave questions on this website. Briefly, here’s how you do it: 1. Click on the Blog Post’s Title (Either on this screen or on the right hand side column) and 2. You’ll be redirected to another screen featuring just this post. Scroll down, and you’ll see the box in which you may leave questions or comments. Thanks, everyone!

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Of Gold, Kites and Golden Kites

GK5One of the most unforgettable evenings of my life as an author came this February, when I was privileged to address the audience at SCBWI’s New York conference, and accept the Golden Kite award for Middle Grade Fiction, for THE BRIDGE HOME. While, on the one hand, I feel like I can’t express my gratitude even if I were to say thank you in every language I know how, I did, of course, have a go at trying to show my appreciation. And, before attending the gala, my daughter did a henna tattoo of kites, on both my hands!

Here’s my acceptance speech:

My first kite wasn’t golden. I tried to fly it, only to watch it fall repeatedly. Those failed attempts were the happier moments of a traumatic chBoy Peeping Into Foodildhood. We lived in a mansion until my dad forced my mum to move out, to an apartment in a concrete jungle. I was forced to meet him every weekend, though he could be abusive. Luckily, I had no self-pity because my mum, though struggling herself, volunteered at shelters for children who faced far worse, yet could share small joys and warm laughter. As I came to know them, some shared tales of horrors they’d survived.

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Decades later, in my head, I heard the voice of one sister, Viji, speaking to another. I had to discover why they’d been driven apart. I saw them run away from their violent father and thier village hoping for a better life in the city, struggle to cross city streets, adopt a stray, reach an abandoned bridge. There, befriended by two boys, they eke out a living.

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But Viji’s hopes of studying at school are dashed because every day, all day, from sunup to sundown, they’re forced to dig through mountains of rubbish – like this trash dump I photographed last summer – to salvage material to sell… until Viji’s sister, who has a disability, starts a bead business. The friends briefly enjoy a sense of family, home and freedom.

Then, all is threatened …

 

Imagine you were alone in a dark graveyard. How long would you stay? I give myself 10 minutes. Maybe. But my friend Indira was forced to stay in a graveyard night after night to escape men who wanted to enslave her. After telling me this, she asked, because she knew I wanted to be a writer – I was always scribbling – “Padma, will you write my story, one day?” “Yes,” I said. “I promise.” It’s taken methe bridge home - cover (1) forty years, but this book, THE BRIDGE HOME is that promise I gave her, as a child.

It would take me forty hours to thank all who helped me get here.Today, I’ll thank only those most important: My legendary editor, Nancy Paulsen, for believing in me and THE BRIDGE HOME when I was filled with fear and doubt, for patience, guidance, brilliant insights; My agent, Rob Weisbach, for wisdom, care, concern; Thotakar, Visalam chithi, I hope you’re watching; My speaking agent Phil Bildner of the AuthoGK2r Village, amazing author of HIGH FIVE FOR GLEN BURKE among other books; The judges who thought THE BRIDGE HOME worthy of recognition: C. Alexander London, I admire your scintillating plots and characterization, as well as the courage and kindness of your character; Angela Dominguez, my global read aloud sister, stellar inventor of Stella Diaz; Susan Fletcher, fantastic creator of Dragon Kyn. My spouse whom I love with all my soul: I respect your vital scientific research, your humility, your philanthropy, your dedication to reducing our carbon footprint that sometimes drives me batty. My daughter, you are everything to me; you made me a better person; I owe you so much.

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When I moved, all alone, to the States, below champagne sipping age, I wrote, even as I strove to prove myself as the only woman of color in my incoming graduate class. When my debut was released, 12 years ago, we diverse authors then had to fight far harder than now, thanks to the marvelous work done by We Need Diverse Books. There’s a long road ahead, and I’ll continue this battle I’ve been waging; so many other incredible authors before me. Some may remember the New England SCBWI conference celebrating diversity, led by Anna Jordon, where I was on a panel with Floyd Cooper and Bobbie Coombs. Before and after, I fought for diversity. Like my first kite, most attempts crashed. But I kept speaking and writing.

GK3This January, I received a phone call from Lin Oliver, whose Little Poems for Tiny Ears was one of my daughter’s first books. That day, I was too delighted for words. But that night, in joyous delirium, I wrote, just as I’d written through terror and tragedy growing up. Because that’s what writers do. We write. As the immortal Anne Frank said, “I’m grateful to God for giving me this gift, of expressing all that is in me.” It’s this gift that makes us writers. Not wonderful phone calls, honors or awards.

Marvelous as GK4material successes are, grateful as I am for these blessings, wondrous as it is to be with you all today, what makes us writers is what we do before and after unexpected calls. It’s time spent ignoring phones and focusing on pens, years of learning craft at conferences like this, honing skills not just by writing but by reading and re-reading books – purchased first hand, please, because buying a second hand or illegal copy is stealing a fellow-author’s money – coming in nurturing communities like ours here, pouring energy into words when alone.

We believe words have power — to fuel imagination, inspire invention, increase empathy, ignite change. And as people hoping for a better world, striving to create books for young readers, we’re equal. We write and watch our books drift away like kites whose paths we can’t control. And when – I say when because even Jane Yolen says she gets rejections –  when stormy skies rip up our kites, we must hold ourselves together and keep trying to fly, because we never know when the breeze will be just right, and our books shall soar or be gilded by others’ love. Most golden and important of all, perhaps our work will help a young person cross a bridge or rejoice in their homes and selves.

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Above is a photograph of the photograph I just bought (yes, paid for) from a newspaper article on my first school visit this February, thanks to @LibrarianMsG for arranging such a marvelous day and all the incredible students who gave me such wonderful gifts that I will always treasure.

Other notable moments this February – I was honored to see THE BRIDGE HOME included as an ALA Notable Book, ALSC Notable Audiobookt, and a Notable Book for a Global Society (ILA NGBS).

For those who love book giveaways, be on the lookout on twitter this week – I plan to do a giveaway of THE BRIDGE HOME and THE LOVELY WAR by Julie Berry, which won the Golden Kite for YA fiction. For those who love food, remember to use the search term foodie friday on Highlights foundation’s website to discover delectable recipes such as berry pavlova and best vanilla cupcakes (donated by Chef Amanda) paired with COOKING UP STORIES writing prompts from books I’ve enjoyed reading (donated by yours truly) – and there will be new recipe and writing prompt up next Friday, for March.

Finally, as always, leaving me comments on this website is a wee-bit complicated, but here’s how, if you wish – and of course, you can also follow me on twitter (@padmatv), ig / fb (venkatraman.padma). Thanks and have a wonderful whats-left-of-this-winter!

So grateful for the Walters and the Golden Kite Awards…

Didn’t expect I’d be taking a break from writing my next novel to write another post this month, but I realize I need to bubble over with gratitude before I can dive into my revising my next novel this morning. Over the past week, I developed an abiding empathy for champagne bottles under pressure because I heard the wonderful news about the Walters and the Golden Kite, both, last week – but wasn’t allowed to share anything publicly until the announcements were made on Tuesday afternoon. Now I am under no pressure to keep is secret and I wanted to share my immense gratitude to everyone who has loved and supported me and THE BRIDGE HOME. I’ll begin with family. My spouse, for his love and support, for his unwavering belief in my work, for the work he does every day to help our environment and our planet, his quiet commitment to increasing diversity in environmental chemistry & engineering & oceanography, his tremendous and absolute humility and his philanthropic nature, his dedication to reducing our carbon footprint – even though it sometimes drives even me batty! My child, who, among other things, makes these lovely, cute little videos for me – like this one that celebrates the gifts of the two awards I have been so lucky to receive:

There are so many people I want to thank – more than I can possibly mention in my award acceptance speeches. I also realize that I will probably keep revising this post, because my mind is sort of frozen now and I am SURE I can’t remember all the kind souls who helped me along the way, and I ask them to forgive me…

My legendary editor, Nancy Paulsen. My literary agent, Rob Weisbach.

My speaking agent, Phil Bildner (an author, too, whose book HIGH FIVE FOR GLEN BURKE is coming out this year). The three authors who judged the Golden Kite and decided THE BRIDGE HOME was worthy: C. Alexander London, Angela Dominguez, and Susan Fletcher!

As you can see, this is an evolving list! There are so many bookstores and librarians and teachers and educators to thank, but for this post, I’m going to restrict myself to  my author colleagues because the SCBWI award is given by authors:

Peter Johnson, Kathi Appelt, Kathy Erskine, Margarita Engle, Elly Swartz, Kristy Dempsey, Holly Thompson, Brian Lies, Chris Tebbetts, Dan Gemeinhart, Nancy Bo Flood, Janet Wong, Alison Green Myers, Ann Braden, Sally Reilly, Carolyn Coman, Jerry Spinelli, Donna Jo Napoli, Nancy Tupper Ling, Jennifer Jacobsen, Victoria Coe, Carole Vogel, Pam Vaughn, Julia Boyce, Krista Suprenatant ….

And the many authors who worked for diversity before me, because the Walters is given by WNDB:

Jackie Woodson, Mildred Taylor, Christopher Paul Curtis, …

And finally, congratulations to the winner of the Walter for YA @marikotamaki and all the finalists for MG and YA: @hirosemaryhello, @azemezi, @acevedowrites, @leeseray, @jasminewarga; as well as the winners of the Golden Kite in the other 6 categories: @julieberrywrites, @elizabethrusch, @DHeiligman, @HyewonYum @Remy_Lai, & Ashley Benham Yazdani, and all the finalists. So honored to join the  the current and past winners and honorees for the WNDB Walters and the Golden Kite

Building bridges in 2020

 

What a marvelous year 2019 was! Being part of #GRABridge and #GRA19 was one of the highlights of my entire writing career, and it touches me deeply that so many of my readers loved THE BRIDGE HOME and that some were moved enough to build bridges of their own, by taking action to help fight against hunger and homelessness and poverty. Just as important and unimaginably humbling, the lives of a few were changed for the better because they found the strength to move to safer situations after reading #TheBridgeHome. That is a blessing beyond all imagining to me, and makes every sacrifice I made to become a writer more than worthwhile.

I’m also deeply honored that the book is on so many best of year and award lists, in addition to the wonderful early reception. Here’s a video my daughter (and a friend) made for me, reflecting my thankfulness. I am immensely grateful to each and every reader for allowing Rukku, Muthu, Arul and Viji into your hearts. Thank you all for your love of the book, and all you’ve given me.

I’ve been wondering what I could give you in return that would be useful and interesting to you all. Here are 2 things I plan to do:

First, I’ll be posting a “cooking up stories” writing prompt paired with a book and a recipe (provided by Chef Amanda) at the Highlights Foundation’s blog the first Friday of every month. Here’s the first #foodiefriday episode (from last November), and yes, there’s one for December and January, too.

Second, I’ll be reading some of my favorite poetry aloud, so you can listen – and maybe write some poetry  – or do some art – of your own, inspired by the poem. This month, I didn’t record a poem – but I’d like to share an idea for something I’m calling a Bridge Poem. Here’s how you make one: 1. Find a partner. 2. Choose (each of you) a word or phrase from THE BRIDGE HOME (or another book you love) and write it down (using different colored ink) on an index card. 3. Now place these two like you’re starting to build a bridge (in the shape of the beginning of a bridge). 4. Take it in turns to find another word or phrase or line that grows out of one of those words, and place them like bricks that you’re using to build a bridge. (Or, for more of a challenge you can start at either end and try to find a way to come together, so that you build a bridge between the first two words that you chose).  Here’s an example, below that I created with poet Laura Shovan. I began with the word Trembling and she began with I told you, and then we alternated (the words/plrases I chose are in black, her choices are in pink) and together we created a poem in the shape of a bridge. 

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In the future, along with a poem I read aloud, I’ll be doing my best to provide prompts that are will be useful and interesting to readers of all ages – young and not-so-young. And I’ll be posting on this blog once a month, or so.

Thanks again, so much, for staying in touch. Here’s…

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… and finally, for you to enjoy the rest of this year, here’s a recipe for a pot of hot, spicy, chai (tea) from cold New England, where I now live (I posted this on twitter last year, but thought it ought to have a permanent home here)! 

THE BRIDGE HOME – honors and awards

* Nerdy Book Award Winner

* Cybil Awards

* Kirkus Best MG Bks 2019

* NYPL Best 2019

* Chicago Public Library Best Bks 2019

* Booklist Editor’s Choice Best Bks 2019

* Washington Post Best Bks 2019

* Mighty Girl Best Bks 2019

* TX Bluebonnet award nominee

* SLJ Top 10 Audio Bks 2019

* Bklist Editor’s Choice Best Audio 2019

* Jr Library Guild audio selection

* CSMCL Best Bks 2019

* GoodReads Best MG Bks 2019

*Audiophile Magazine Earphone Award

* Washington Post KidPost Summer Reading Selection

* Global Read Aloud, 2019

* ProjectLIT, 2019-20

* Ebony Teach Best Books 2019

* Betsy Bird’s 31 MG titles in SLJ

* Mighty Girl pick

* Today Show

* “a blisteringly beautiful book” – Starred Review, Kirkus

* “absorbing” – Starred Review, Booklist

* “stellar” – Starred Review, SLJ

* “a story that must be shared.” – Starred Review, SLC

*  “exquisitely narrated” – Starred Review, PW

* “moving” – Sound Commentary, Starred Review

* Venkatraman brings love, support and humor to a story undergirded by tough issues” – SLJ audio, Starred Review

* “beautifully rendered” – SF Chronicle

* “gorgeous storytelling” – NYT Book Review

* “will break hearts and inspire activist longings” – BCCB

* “this bittersweet novel is about breaking the cycle of abuse, reaching for your dreams and finding home ” – Horn Book

* “an amazing book” – Newsday

 

 

Week 6 #GRABridge Q&A video #TheBridgeHome

Hi, everyone! Can’t believe it’s the final week of #GRA19! It’s been a privilege to have shared #TheBridgeHome with you and an honor to be part of #GRABridge. I do hope you’ll stay in touch, by filling out the form at the very end of this post (for a chance to win a special thank you from me – and if I can, I will do my best to try and send a little something to every one who fills in the form). If you aren’t already doing so, I’d love for you to follow this blog (click follow on the right hand side of the screen) and staying in touch on social media (click the icons on the right or follow my posts on twitter @padmatv and youtube, fb or ig venkatraman.padma).

I’m sad that this is the last official #GRA19 week because I’ll miss getting those beautiful photographs of readers in classrooms all over the world, but there’s been lots of lovely news this week, which keeps me hopeful and joyful. THE BRIDGE HOME is a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2019, a Texas BlueBonnet Award Nominee (speaking of TX, special thanks to Hutchinson School, TX, for your wonderful students who have consistently come up with insightful questions every week), and a Goodreads Choice Award best book of the year nominee! Here’s a link to the Goodreads voting page if you have an account and want to vote: http://bit.ly/32qIAB1

In the coming years, I plan to post a writing-related activity once a month on this blog. As always, if you have a question about my books or writing, click on the title of the post and you’ll be redirected to a screen featuring just this post and if you scroll to the bottom there will be a box in which you can leave the question for me to answer on a monthly basis. I’ve also started a regular guest blog column called COOKING UP STORIES, where I’ll provide a monthly writing prompt (associated with a book for young readers) which will be linked with a recipe provided by Chef Amanda at the Highlights foundation. So if you enjoy writing or reading or food or all three, visit me there the first Friday of every month: click here for the first #FoodieFriday post. I’ll link that on my monthly posts on this blog, too, of course.

Now for this week’s questions. Although I’m in excellent spirits, I’m not in the best of health (I have a sore throat). So some of these questions are answered in writing, although you will see a video as well, below. Sorry it’s not longer – but do please send me your wishes for good health, at least until I’m done with my NCTE/ALAN talks!

Rama, you asked about where I write. Here are some photographs showing places I like to write – the deck, the dock, and my study.

SAGES school, FoxLake, WI, you asked if the book is a letter from Viji to Rukku, and yes, it sort of is. “Sort of” because I find repeated short letters a bit of a trite way to create a book, usually, so that’s why it flows like one long letter. This way you hear Viji speaking to Rukku, just as I heard her voice in my head when I wrote THE BRIDGE HOME. So, yes, Colby Sharp and Matthew Winner and other wonderful librarians have indeed described it as one long letter.

Bettendorf Middle School, you, like many others, asked if I’d write a sequel. I don’t know, but here’s something I am planning to do for sure: in either my next middle grade book or the one that comes after, I will give the characters in THE BRIDGE HOME a cameo appearance, so you get a sense of what happened to them, okay?

Here’s a video with a few questions that came up again this week:

And here’s my call to action, with a few suggestions:

  1. Viji’s challenge. Viji loves books and yearns to go to school. Perhaps you could help other children who want an education (through an organization such as ASHA for education) or spread your love of reading. For example, maybe you could volunteer to spend time helping another child to read, or collect books for a library or school in need (as Books are Wings does in my home state of RI, USA).
  2.  Rukku’s challenge.The little family on the bridge enjoys independence and freedom and feels rich, thanks to Rukku’s bead business and the money that it generates. Maybe you can find a way to fund-raise for a cause you believe in, or collect money for an organization that you find important. Here are some organizations that were doing good work to the best of my knowledge, and I’m listing them because they are secular organizations that in some way connect with my writing and the characters and themes in THE BRIDGE HOME (but if you decide to donate to them or any other organization, please do check on them by conducting your own research as well): The Concerned For Working Children, Sankara Eye Foundation, CRY, Freedom TrustV-excelCommunity Volunteers in Education, Engineers Without Borders, Environmental Energy Study Institute, Global Green Grants Fund, Southern Environmental Law Center, Wild Aid, Wild Net, kiva.
  3. Arul’s challenge. Arul is quiet but strong. Arul keeps his promises and never breaks his word. Think about your behavior and your habits. Make a pledge to change the way you act, in order to help the environment and reduce waste – and keep your pledge.
  4. Muthu’s challenge. Muthu enjoys speaking up. In his honor, maybe you’d like to speak up about something that concerns you, or write an open letter with positive suggestions for solutions to a problem your community faces, or send a letter to the editor of a local newspaper or blog or a senator with specific ideas on how to help change a situation for the better.
  5.  Lalitha’s challenge. Lalitha loves art. Use art to raise awareness of a social justice issue faced by your community or country or the world – or just create art using recycled materials and think of kids like those in THE BRIDGE HOME and send them your best wishes as you work.
  6. THE BRIDGE HOME challenge. Build a bridge with words (or actions), maybe just with a smile or a sentence, and share with me what you said or did.

Those are just some ideas I have – you may have more.

Finally, a HUGE THANK YOU! If you would like a chance to win a little something from me to thank you for reading THE BRIDGE HOME, feel free to fill out this form with your Teacher’s Name, School Name, and Mailing address and you may get something from me in the post. So, I won’t say goodbye. I’ll say stay in touch. I look forward to hearing from you in the weeks and months and years to come.