After a hectic summer, I’ve decided to have a calmer fall. I plan to spend more time writing than traveling, but I will be doing a bit of teaching, too. I’m so honored and excitedly looking forward to teaching an online course in writing at Sarah Lawrence College. For the first half of the semester, I will present interactive lectures (instruction, discussion, and writing activities designed to hone skills and craft). The second half will include individualized feedback. I can’t wait! Among others, writer Hanh Bui (author of the picture book shown above) is registered! Looking forward to meeting many other talented writers. If you’d like to join us, do it soon, as we start this upcoming Monday. Registration and more information: https://slc.augusoft.net/index.cfm?method=ClassInfo.ClassInformation&int_class_id=137&int_category_id=0&int_sub_category_id=0&int_catalog_id=0
I’m also looking forward greatly to being at the Chappaqua Book Festival in a few weeks! It’s on Saturday, September 30th at the Chappaqua Train Station, 10:00 a.m to 4:00 p.m. and admission is free. Here’s more information about that: https://ccbfestival.org/authors/?query-36-page=4&cst I’m also delighted that BORN BEHIND BARS is on yet another wonderful state award list – Arizona! Below are some with photographs taken during a wonderful family trip to that state.
We visited Arizona some years ago, when Kathy Short honored me with an invitation to be one of the featured authors at the incredible Tuscon Festival of Books, which, for me, began with a wonderful dinner, during which I met Margaret Peter Haddix (author of the bestselling novel RUNNING OUT OF TIME, and its recently released sequel, FALLING OUT OF TIME) – and we an absolutely scrumptious dessert (shown above) that was made to look like a book!
“Fear is a Lock. Courage is a key.” That’s a quote from BORN BEHIND BARS. It’s a quote that I believe teachers, librarians and other educators live by. Especially these days, when our nation and our world seems so divided. This second day of #TeacherAppreciationWeek, I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to all the teachers who’ve made a difference in my life, and the lives of every child I’ve ever met. Thank you for sharing knowledge so selflessly, and for your bravery – you are heroes.
In the wake of so many recent tragedies, I sometimes feel at a loss for words. Yet words are the only gift I can give to educators. I’m not sure what else I can give – and I realize nothing can ever fully express the depth of my gratitude. So here is a short list of a few new resources, which are free and which I hope you will enjoy and which I hope will help you in some small way.
I’m delighted to moderate a panel for PEN America. If you’re in New York City, you can visit our event during the #PENWorldVoicesFestival this Saturday afternoon (see the graphic below for information). The event won’t be live-streamed, but will be recorded and shared on PEN America’s YouTube channel in July, so you can catch up with us in summer if you can’t see us live: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCXtC846wFrdIIp4NBrNPKHg
Finally, here’s a short story I wrote that you can access free of charge, along with discussion questions and more, which addresses the theme of bullying. It’s also uses the first person plural point of view (“we”) so it was a wonderful challenge to write, and provides and unusual address to explore while reading. https://www.commonlit.org/en/texts/her-story
Thanks again. Happy Teacher Appreciation Week and Happy AAPI month!
I’m thrilled that this year, my first love – poetry – will provide a nexus between two very different groups that I started: Authors Take Action and Diverse Verse. Read on to find out what the connection is – and, better still, to discover poetry prompts for you to try on your own, or share with others.
Laura Shovan is leading #AuthorsTakeAction this year, and she proposed a wonderful poetry project, encouraging poets to contribute poems relating in some way to climate (and/or climate change). As a scientist who is deeply concerned about anthropogenic impacts on human health, and the health of all life on our planet, as well as our planet’s health. I am deeply upset to witness how quickly our Earth is heating up, as though it is a human body, whose temperature is rising as a result of a fever. So I chose to write a poem about Climate Change. It’s a work in progress, and I haven’t quite decided what to call it. At first I thought “Will We Weather Change?” but that seemed a bit too mundane… so now I’m considering something more along the lines of “Dawn On Us” At any rate, here’s my first draft, below:
Rising, as our future shines, waters reflect melting gold.
Sunlight. Peace falls on Earth. Our raised hands
press together in prayer, treasuring all we hold.
Rising, as our future shines, waters reflect melting gold.
We grow wealthy but desire more. We no longer care for old
wisdom. We destroy oceans, watch fires blaze across lands
as our future melts. Rising waters reflect shining gold
pieces. Sunlight falls on Earth, razed by our hands.
If you’re a poet, you probably recognize that the form I’m following rather loosely is the Triolet. In this interview, Laura Shovan says she often rewrites a free verse poem “in a traditional form, such as a triolet” while revising, because it helps her find rhythms she may have missed. I love playing with form when I write, and since I handed over leadership of Authors Take Action to Laura Shovan, who brought up this form in her interview, I decided to try my hand at writing a Triolet.
On the one hand, this poem looks remarkably easy. There’s a lot of repetition: the first line recurs as the fourth and seventh lines, and the second line recurs as the eighth. So the poet only needs to come up with five lines. Of course, as any poet knows, repetition also implies that the lines one does come up with had better be strong, because the reader will read them again and again – and given how short the triolet is, they’d better like those repeating lines. Are you ready to try writing a Triolet? If so, here’s a template to help you get going:
1st line (A)
2nd line (B)
3rd line (a)- new line that rhymes with the first line
4th line (A) – first line repeats
5th line -(a) new line that rhymes with the first line
6th line – (b) new line that rhymes with the second line
7th line (A) – first line repeats
8th line (B) – second line repeats
When I wrote my drafts, I copied out the template, filled in the repeating lines, and then wrote the other three original lines. By the strictest of rules, you might decide that my poem is not quite a triolet. Can you tell why?
I rearranged the words in the final lines, and I also replaced some of the original words with homophones instead of using the same words again (pieces versus peace; razed versus raised). But my poem is, at the very least, definitely inspired by this form. It took me a lot longer than you might think – but I love the writing process and I’m glad I tried this form. I hope you will try it, too!
If you’re wondering how all of this relates to #DiverseVerse, I’m thrilled to share that on www.diverseverse.com we’re posting an eclectic mixture of poetry prompts, activities, essays, reflections, interviews, reviews and more, every day of #NationalPoetryMonth2023! So visit Diverse Verse to find out more about that project.
I’ll be offering two more writing prompts for our #LoveLettersToPoetry series, one of which will feature a reading from a short story in verse that appears in the groundbreaking anthology, CALLING THE MOON: 16 period stories by BIPOC authors, edited by Aida Salazar and Yamile Saied Méndez.
In addition to reading the story, if you are a teacher or educator, you’ll find discussion questions and other teacher resources to go with the story on the website. Feel free to share widely – and yes, it is free. My books are about children who suffer from socioeconomic inequality, so it didn’t feel right to tie any kind of pre-order giveaway to a purchase.
For those of you who aren’t aware, a beloved character from THE BRIDGE HOME reappears in BORN BEHIND BARS as an adult. So, for all those who wondered what happened after THE BRIDGE HOME…you’ll find a hint in BORN BEHIND BARS.
Many of you, my readers, are moved to help others in need, and so I just wanted to share, as I have in the past, an organization that I believe is providing excellent aid to those suffering from the Earthquake in Syria and Turkey: Doctors Without Borders .
Thanks for reading my work and staying in touch through this newsletter! Sending best wishes,
I was also honored to share my thoughts on my experience of being the target of cyber-bullies in an essay published by Renaissance Learning – alongside essays by Jacqueline Woodson and Francisco X Stork, and featured on Edith Campbell’s blog.
On a personal note, I was so grateful that BORN BEHIND BARS received multiple awards (Julia Ward Howe / Boston Authors Club Award), South Asia Book Award, Nerdy Book Award, and Malka Penn Award Honor, in addition to the many amazing honors that it won in 2021; and it was an amazing experience to keynote three sessions at NCTE 22 and to be a keynote speaker at VAASL, which allowed me to return to Williamsburg, where I once was a student! I also loved spending time teaching in Southampton in summer ’22 … was blown away to be invited as a featured author at the Arizona Author festival, among others, where I ate one of the most beautiful desserts ever, before hiking in the desert with my beautiful family.
2022 was also a tough year in many ways, but I look forward to good things in 2023, including school visits, which I always love – and – coming up very soon, a keynote at the Write to Learn conference in MO. If you’d like to schedule a keynote or presentation or school visit, please feel free to reach out to my speaking agency, The Author Village, and copy me, as well. Thank you so much for your support!
A few of many happy moments in ’22… but hope ’23 will be better!
This spring began with so many delightful bits of news: The Bridge Home received another award – The Jerry, presented by WJRC! Born Behind Bars is also on Georgia’s state award list! I’ve been doing a lot of virtual visits, and over the next few weeks, I’ll be doing more.
On my slides, I quote from a lot of articles I’ve written about various aspects of diversity in the field of children’s and YA literature. I also point out that there are plenty of resources on this website for librarians and educators who’d like to use my books in classrooms. However, please note that many of the links may NOT work because of your school / library server. There’s nothing that can be done at my end to help solve that. However, most of the links can be accessed via my padlet.
So please click on this link for now, and thanks for your patience. You an also access many of my videos, including general writing prompts, via my YouTube channel and writing prompts may also be found on the COOKING UP STORIES blog that I write for the Highlights Foundation the first Friday of each month, in which I come up with a writing prompt and it’s paired with a colleague’s book and a delectable recipe by Chef Amanda. As for general diversity resources, an annotated list of some of my articles is below:
No problem with problem books (about gender inequity in kidlit, for YA Wednesday)
A list of awards the celebrate underrepresented and marginalized voices / books for young people (SLJ)
Golden silence, gilded words (about microagressions, on author Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Cynsations blog)
Honoring the history of those who strove for diversity in our field and in our country (WNDB Walter Award acceptance speech, in a way – although the year I won it was the year COVID struck and the ceremony was cancelled)!
One of my very early books of nonfiction which was published before I considered myself an author, featured by Renaissance Learning
Can’t believe 2021 is nearly over. As this year winds down, I’m taking a moment to be grateful for all the honors and awards and praise Born Behind Bars has been blessed with. So far, to my knowledge, it’s on the Boston Globe, Kirkus, School Library Journal, CSMCL and India Currents Best Books of 2021 lists; on Mr. John Schu and Travis Jonker’s Top 20 Books of 2021 list; and in addition to the starred reviews to which it was released and the glowing reviews from the New York Times Book Review and Providence Journal, it was showcased as Parents Magazine’s November Book Club pick.
If you’d like to hear the story-behind-the-story or download a discussion guide, Born Behind Bars related writing prompt or hear the first chapter of the audiobook, which I read, or access further reading suggestions or support resources, you’ll find them at the Born Behind Bars page of this website (resources tab top right, Born Behind Bars drop down menu).
Sending my wishes out to the world for health, above all, and a safe and peaceful end to this year and joy in 2022.
November is my birthday month – and this year, it came with a wonderful surprise gift. Parents Magazine chose BORN BEHIND BARS as their book-of-the-month!
Previous “Raising the Future” book club titles include She Persisted: Ruby Bridges by Kekla Magoon and Chelsea Clinton; Daddy and Dada by Ryan Brockington and Isaac Webster; I Wish You Knew by Jackie Azua Kramer; Stamped (for kids) by Jason Reynold and Ibram X Kendi; The Chance to Fly by Ali Stroker and Stacy Davidowitz; Simon B Rhymin by Dwayne Reed; Milo Imagines the World by Matt De La Peña; My Very Favorite Book in the Whole Wide World by Malcom Mitchell; Kamala and Maya’s Big Idea by Meena Harris; My Rainbow by DeShanna and Trinity Neal; Class Act by Jerry Craft; I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes and Antiracist Baby by Ibram X Kendi. As you might imagine I was super thrilled to be in such marvelous company. And I got a chance to converse about BORN BEHIND BARS with superstar teacher Colby Sharp on Parents Magazine’s Ig live.
My first ever Ig live – but Colby made it so much fun, and so very easy. Not enough words to thank him and Parents Magazine for this honor. What’s more, School Library Journal awarded BORN BEHIND BARS a starred review! It’s the 21st time I’ve seen a message saying one of my books received a star, and each time, my eyes fill with tears of thankfulness.
“This novel is for readers who are seeking realistic fiction that tug at the heartstrings. The story is authentic, and the emotion … will induce tears. This is a true window book for many readers unaware of caste systems and the struggles within them. Venkatraman takes these complex topics and makes them heartfelt and resonant.” – SLJ, Starred Review
Another exciting bit of news I didn’t yet share – BORN BEHIND BARS received a marvelous review in the New York Times after I’d posted last month. I was especially thrilled – and touched – that the reviewer echoed my editor Nancy Paulsen’s sentiment (when she first read a draft of BORN BEHIND BARS, she said it had the quality of a fable)!
“confidently stripped down, crystalline style…Borrowing elements of fable” – New York Times Book Review.
Many more author events coming up this month, including a Mackin panel, and 4 events on the first and last days of the NCTE conference.
On Thursday November 18, 2021, I’ll begin with a panel moderated by Becky Calzada, entitled More Than Just Friendships: Allies in Middle Grade Fiction Time: 12:00 AM EST. This is an On Demand Session.
Next, that afternoon, I am thrilled to join Donalyn Miller and others at The Nerdy Book Club: Supporting Equitable, Joyful Reading Communities – a Roundtable Session, from 1:30 PM EST – 2:45 PM EST. This is a LIVE session.
My next session on Thursday Nov 18 is also live and also a Roundtable Session moderated by Steven Bickmore and it’s called Toe Tag Monologues: Creating Equity and Justice for Adolescents in Crisis through Performance and Young Adult Literature, 3:00 PM EST – 4:15 PM.
Finally, on Sunday November 21, 2021, the last day of the conference, I’ll join JoEllen McCarthy along with other authors, to discuss Unlocking Layers of Justice and Equity Through Children’s Books– this Panel Presentation is a Scheduled session but it’s prerecorded which means, I believe, that we authors will be online for live Q & A.
So grateful for the warm welcome, starred reviews and praise BORN BEHIND BARS has been receiving!
Immense gratitude to the New York Times Book Review, Publishers Weekly, Booklist and Kirkus. Here’s a wonderful article about and review of BORN BEHIND BARS in India Currents. Thrilled to hear the wonderful reviews of the book shared by Colby Sharp and Pernille Ripp, too! So honored to be together with the brilliant Donalyn Miller, as a guest on the incredible John Schu’s BookJoy Live.
If you hear(d) me present one of my two keynote addresses this week (Montana State Literacy Association 10/21/2021; Rutgers One on One Conference on Sunday afternoon), and would like to read some of the most essays I’ve written on diversity-related issues, here are a few links:
Book recommendations I provided today at MSLA conference:
Some picture books by indigenous authors: Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Jingle Dancer; Traci Sorell’s We are Grateful; Fry Bread by Kevin Noble Maillard and Juana Martinez-Neal. Some chapter books by indigenous authors: The Arrow Over the Door by Joseph Bruchac; Indian No More by Charlene Willing McManis and Traci Sorell (for which I did a writing prompt). Some books for young readers that feature disability can be found on my statement on invisible disability on the resources page of this website: scroll down until you see Further Reading under Teach The Bridge Home in the drop down menu and you’ll see a link to a pdf; some authors with disabilities who have written middle – YA books that came to mind: Corinne Duyvis, Cindy Rodriguez, Lyn Miller Lachmann, Ann Clare Lezotte.
Some graphic novels by authors from underrepresented/marginalized communities: Fly on the Wall by Remy Lai (who is very special to me because she won the Sid Fleischman award the same year I won the Golden Kite for THE BRIDGE HOME); Jerry Craft’s Class Act and New Kid; Cece Bell’s El Daefo; Twins by Varian Johnson and Shannon Wright; Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese; Measuring Up by Lily LaMotte and Ann Xu; When Stars are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed; One Hundred Demons by Lynda Barry; Nidhi Chanani’s Pashmina (which I have yet to read, I’ll admit)!
Thanks again, Montana State Literacy Association conference and RUCCL for the honor of an invitation to do a keynote, and heartfelt thanks to each person who has written to me expressing love for Kabir, Rani, and Grandma Knife (who seems to be everyone’s second or third most favorite character in the novel).
I’m so excited to share the news that Born Behind Bars is a Junior Library Guild Selection! And it received it’s first review – a wonderful STAR – from Kirkus:
” This compelling novel develops at a brisk pace, advanced by evocative details and short chapters full of action… A gritty story, filled with hope and idealism.” * Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review
If you’d like to listen to an excerpt of me reading the BORN BEHIND BARS audiobook, here’s a link to Penguin’s Listening Library Page. If you’d like to read more about the novel, including an excerpt, here’s the link to Penguin’s page for BORN BEHIND BARS.
I’m looking forward to my keynote address for the Montana State Literacy Association, during which I’ll be addressing questions of diversity (which I’ll also be speaking about today during my first panel with the amazing Molly Ness and Elizabeth Blye at nErD camp PA today; and which I also spoke about during my keynote conversation earlier this month for the Writers On Writing – WOW -conference). I though I’d list some of my articles on diversity, that I’ll be referring to during the keynote, in case attendees wish to read them. More links to diverse resources are available via the website’s diversity page (resources drop down menu), which will be updated regularly.
Accept, Don’t Tolerate. Invited article contributed to Kirkus Reviews, outlining thoughts on Religious Diversity in Literature for Young People.