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Author: Lalitha Nataraj

2015 Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults: An Interview with Finalist Candace Fleming

the-family-romanov-candace-flemingThe YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction honors the best nonfiction book published for young adults (ages 12-18) during a Nov. 1 – Oct. 31 publishing year. The award winner will be announced at the ALA Midwinter Meeting Youth Media (YMA) Awards on Monday, Feb. 2, 2015. Join us for a live webcast of the YMA Awards press conference or follow I Love Libraries on Twitter or Facebook to be among the first to know the 2015 winners. The official hashtag for the 2015 Youth Media Awards is  #ALAyma.

2015 Nonfiction Award finalist Candace Fleming is the author of over twenty works of fiction and nonfiction for children and young adults, including The Great and Only Barnum (a 2010 YALSA Award for Excellence Finalist) and Our Eleanor (a 2006 YALSA Best Book for Young Adults). Her book, The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia is a finalist for the 2015 YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award. Ms. Fleming graciously took time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions about her writing process and what inspired her to write about the tragic history of the Romanovs.

What’s a typical day in your life as a writer?
Most days, I wander down to my office – still in my pajamas and with coffee cup in hand – to spend the early morning hours writing.  What I mean is, I play around with language, make discoveries, cheer, hit dead ends, curse, spit and pull my hair out. I use wide-lined, loose-leaf paper and a blue Bic pen.  The smell of the cheap ink sends a signal to my brain that says, “We’re writing now.”  And because these tools aren’t precious, I feel free to play around, make mistakes, crunch up pages and try again.  Some of my best work comes from these early morning sessions.  When this creative spurt sputters to its end (usually within an hour or two) I get dressed, go to the gym, and then head home for breakfast and more office time.  This is when I tackle revisions, or do research.   I also catch up on all the business of writing –answering emails, writing blog posts, booking school visits etc.  I never work alone.  Daily witnesses to my efforts (and frustrations) are my cats, Oliver and Oreo, who curl up on a pillow beside the warm radiator and stare at me with bemused expressions… when they’re not napping.  Under my desk lies my dog, Oxford.  He lends moral support by occasionally licking one of my bare feet.  I’d like to tell you my tarantula, Betty, also aids in my writing process.  She doesn’t.  She just hunches down in her cage like a hairy lump.  By four o’clock my day is done, unless I’m crunching a deadline, or completely absorbed in my work.  I call to all the animals (except the spider) and close my office door.  Ah, the glamorous life of a children’s writer, huh?
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2014 Teens’ Top Ten: An Interview with Janet Edwards

The Teens’ Top Ten is a “teen choice” list where members of teen book groups in sixteen school and public libraries across the country nominate and choose their favorite books of the year. Nominations are posted on Celebrate Teen Literature Day, the Thursday of National Library Week, and teens across the country vote on their favorite titles each year.

The votes are in and the 2014 winners have been announced — and we’re featuring them here on The Hub. Today we bring you an interview with Janet Edwards, who is on this year’s Teens’ Top Ten list for Earth Girl (the first book in the Earth Girl Trilogy).

 Earth Girl_coverDo you have a special ritual or tradition to celebrate whenever a new book of yours is released?

The release of a new book is a time of high emotion for me, a mixture of celebration at the achievement and nervous tension as I wait to see what readers think of the book. I expected it to be less emotional with my second book, but it wasn’t. My special tradition is to treat myself to a small piece of jewelry. Later on, when the nervous tension stage is over, I can look at that and re-experience the feeling of celebration.

What do you like most about writing for young adults?

There are two things really. One is that the books that made the deepest impression on me, the ones I still think about many years later, were ones I read as a teenager. That makes it especially rewarding when I get a message from a teenager saying how much they loved reading Earth Girl. Some of those readers may remember Earth Girl the way I remember the books I loved as a teenager.

The second thing is that your readership isn’t limited to teenagers. Young adult books are coming of age tales, a type of story which has always had universal appeal. I’m delighted by the incredible range of people of all backgrounds and ages who have contacted me after reading my books.

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¡Viva! YA Literature for Hispanic Heritage Month

Image courtesy of Flickr user Classic Film
Image courtesy of Flickr user Classic Film

September 15 – October 15 is Hispanic Heritage Month which honors the history, culture, and contributions of Americans of Hispanic/Latino descent. As someone who works in a primarily Spanish-speaking community, this national observance is especially meaningful for myself, my colleagues, and the patrons we serve. Hispanic Heritage Month presents the opportunity to showcase literature in which many of our readers see their personal and unique experiences reflected, celebrated, and made visible to the world around them. Here are a few titles for you to enjoy that feature Hispanic/Latino characters and/or are written by Hispanic/Latino authors. ¡Viva!

Marina by Carlos Ruiz Zafónmarina

I’ve been a fan of Ruiz Zafón since 2001, when he transfixed me with his stunning gothic novel for adults, Shadow of the Wind; naturally it’s been wonderful to see his young adult fiction (orig. published in Spanish) translated into English. The Prince of Mist (2011 Best Fiction for Young Adults) was lauded for its gorgeous attention to historical detail, haunting mood, and suspenseful twists. Ruiz Zafón’s Marina continues the same lush storytelling tradition. Fifteen-year old Oscar Drai’s adventure begins when he encounters the mysterious Marina while exploring an older part of Barcelona. They go to a cemetery where they witness a woman dressed in black placing a rose on an unmarked grave. Marina and Oscar choose to follow the woman, and are soon drawn into a world full of dark secrets involving a dead actress, a reclusive industrial tycoon, and creepy science experiments.

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San Diego Comic Con 2014: A Recap for YA Lit Fans

comic_conEach summer, I look forward to the San Diego Comic Con with all of its celebrity sightings, out-of-this-world costumes, and tons of  free swag and goodies to purchase… really, what’s not to love? Scheduling time to attend can be a little hectic because the SDCC usually follows the ALA Annual Conference – however, I thank my lucky stars that I’m local so I can squeeze in at least one day of good times. Librarians take note – you are eligible to apply for a creative or trade professional badge, so definitely look into that!

 

Graphix_print
A cool keepsake to hang in my sons’ room.

Last Thursday, I kicked off my Con experience at a lovely party hosted by Graphix (the graphic novels division of Scholastic, Inc.) on a swanky hotel rooftop a few blocks away from the convention hubbub. Several favorite authors and artists were in attendance to hang out with old friends, meet new ones, and of course, talk the night away about books and Con adventures. Graphix provided everyone with a print showcasing artwork from the likes of Raina Telgemeier, Mike Maihack, Dan Santat, Jeff Smith, and more. As an added bonus, artists were equipped with pens, and happily autographed/doodled near their respective sections.

BONE_tribute
BONE Tribute featured art.

Graphix also announced that they will be publishing BONE #1: Out from Boneville, The Tribute Edition in February 2015. This special edition of Jeff Smith’s first book in his immensely popular BONE series is part of Scholastic’s 10th anniversary celebration of its Graphix imprint which launched in 2005. The BONE Tribute Edition will be in full-color and feature artwork from sixteen additional artists including Jeffrey Brown, Dav Pilkey, Kazu Kibuishi, and Raina Telgemeier.

With my friend Sara Coney (Youth Services Librarian with San Diego County Library) and John Bradley-West (aka Samwell Tarly on HBO's Game of Thrones) - SDCC 2014.
Sara and I with John Bradley-West (aka Samwell Tarly on HBO’s Game of Thrones) – SDCC 2014.

As I mentioned before, SDCC wouldn’t be SDCC without at least one celebrity sighting, and gosh did we have one! On our way out, my friend Sara and I ran into John Bradley-West (a.k.a. Samwell Tarley on HBO’s Game of Thrones) – he was kind enough to take a photo with two admiring fans (it helped to mention that we were librarians ;) ).

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ALA Annual 2014: YALSA’s YA Author Coffee Klatch

Lalitha_SarahDessen_ALA2009
Oh, the memories! With Sarah Dessen at the 2009 YALSA Coffee Klatch.

For the past few years, one of my favorite events at the ALA Annual Conference has been YALSA’s YA Author Coffee Klatch. A ticketed event, the Coffee Klatch provides attendees with the opportunity to chat with fabulous young adult authors about their books, youth literature in general, and- in the case of Internet Girls author Lauren Myracle- most overused emoji. Most of the authors participating in the Coffee Klatch have had their work recognized on at least one of YALSA’s six annual selected lists and/or have been recipients of one of YALSA’s five literary awards.

Similar to speed dating, there are approximately 30+ round tables set up around the ballroom at which 8 or so people are seated. Every 5 minutes, a whistle goes off and a new author joins you at your table. To give you an idea of how memorable this event is: my husband reminded me of the 2008 Coffee Klatch we attended at ALA in Anaheim, along with our tiny infant son strapped to his chest (“Hey, that’s where we met John Green!”). This year, I brought along my sister, Nirmala, who happened to be experiencing ALA and Las Vegas for the very first time (!). She’s a writer, and getting to sit with fellow authors and commune about literature and the writing process engaged her on a whole new level. As a librarian who regularly reads and shares these authors’ works in a professional and personal capacity, the Klatch is basically my chance to fangirl them (but not in a creepy way, of course…yeaaaaah).

Authors at the 2014 YALSA Coffee Klatch!
Authors at the 2014 YALSA Coffee Klatch!

This year’s literary line-up included Josephine Angelini, Paolo Bacigalupi, Jessica Brody, Ally Condie, Jim Di Bartolo, Matt de la Pena, Matt Dembicki, Becca Fitzpatrick, Jonathan Friesen, Carol Goodman, Alan Gratz, Claudia Gray, Collen Gleason, Ryan Graudin, Nathan Hale, Jenny Han, PJ Hoover, Katherine Howe, Lindsey Leavitt, Marie Lu, Jonathan Maberry, Lauren Myracle, Blake Nelson, Jandy Nelson, Caragh O’Brien, Mary Pearson, Jason Reynolds, Graham Salisbury, Neal Shusterman, Jon Scieszka, Marcus Sedgwick, Clare Vanderpool, Scott Westerfeld, Cat Winters, and Meg Wolitzer.

Here are some highlights from my table:

Blinding Us with Science

YALSA Coffee Klatch 2014: Jon Scieszka and Claudia Gray
YALSA Author Coffee Klatch 2014: Jon Scieszka and Claudia Gray

Jon Scieszka’s new middle-grade Frank Einstein series is STEM-based with a lot of appeal for reluctant readers. Claudia Gray discussed A Thousand Pieces of You, the first book in her forthcoming Firebird series, featuring time-bending, parallel universes, and a healthy dose of romance.

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Season of Pride: A Roundup of LGBTQ YA Lit

"I love in rainbow." Courtesy of Flickr user D. Sharon Pruitt (Purple Sherbet Photography)
“I love in rainbow.” Courtesy of Flickr user D. Sharon Pruitt (Purple Sherbet Photography)

Almost a year ago, I was sitting in a ballroom in Chicago, watching Benjamin Alire Sáenz deliver a moving, and deeply personal speech during the Printz Award reception. Like most of the people there, I was listening intently and reaching up, at times, to brush away tears. Though his fellow awardees also presented beautifully eloquent remarks, it was Sáenz’s words that left a lasting impression on me. He referred to himself as a “cartographer” who, in Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (2013 Stonewall Book Award, 2013 Printz Honor, 2013 Best Fiction for Young Adults Top Ten, and Pura Belpre Author Award), created a “roadmap…for boys who were born to play by different rules.”

During Sáenz’s speech, I thought about my friend, Julian, and his struggles during our teens.  Jules was just starting to come to terms with his sexuality – the summer before our senior year, he told me that he was pretty certain that he was gay.  Growing up during the 1980s-90s in a middle class suburb of Los Angeles, with a predominantly Latino population, we didn’t really have access to the wealth of queer resources that are freely available today. Also, people simply didn’t talk about those things (unless it was to make some tasteless, hurtful joke). So it was hardly a surprise that he bided his time, waiting until college to come out and be himself completely. After reading  Aristotle and Dante, I sent Julian a text, begging him to pick it up. I said, “This is the book you needed to read at 16.” It took him a while, but he finally read it and wrote me this message: “Thank you for recommending this book so many months ago. It made me laugh from the first few pages. I’ve been savoring every page as it pulls me in and reminds me of the awkwardness and possibilities of adolescence.”

June is Pride Month, which celebrates the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community and affirms their right to live visibly in dignity and equality. In honor of Pride, I want to share some amazing LGBTQ novels (some of which aren’t out yet, but you’ll want to add them to your to-read pile) that had me laughing and crying all over the place.

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Celebrating Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month: The Indian-American Experience in YA Lit

Nataraja
Shiva as Lord of Dance (Nataraja), Chicago Institute of Art. Photograph taken by L. Nataraj

A few weeks ago, I was lamenting the closing down of one of my favorite restaurants in San Diego. I’m almost embarrassed to admit how choked up it made me feel, but hear me out: This particularly eatery was so important to me because 1) It was the only place nearby that served the authentic South Indian cuisine I grew up eating and, 2) It’s where my husband and I grabbed lunch after our courthouse wedding nine years ago.

For years, my husband and I made the 30-minute drive to Madras Cafe – it would usually be packed with Indian families (many of whom were South Indian like mine). While perusing the menu, I would take comfort in being surrounded by the familiar strains of Tamil or Telugu – the languages spoken by my father and mother, respectively. The walls were also plastered with faded photographs of temples in the southern part of India, and food was served on traditional stainless steel dinnerware.

Because my parents live in Northern California, this place was the closest I could come to my mother’s home cooked meals. More than all of this, this restaurant represented a space where I belonged, and where I was not an outsider. This sense of belonging also applies to my feelings about diversity in literature – I continue to search for books in which I find my personal cultural experiences accurately mirrored. Discovering a story where the characters eat the same food as I do, pepper their English-dialogue with Indian language, and express the frustration of straddling two cultures elicits an internal sigh, like, “Finally! Someone else gets it!”

The month of May marks Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, and I’m excited to share a few YA literature titles that focus on the Indian-American experience and/or Indian culture. 

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“Life after Theft” – Stealing and Redemption in YA Books

Image Credit: Flickr user B Garrett
Image Credit: Flickr user B Garrett

A few weeks ago, a friend and I finally got around to watching Bling Ring, Sofia Coppola’s 2013 film based on the true story of a group of privileged teens from Calabasas, California who robbed several Hollywood celebrities’ homes between 2008 and 2009. Drawing from Nancy Jo Sales’s 2010 Vanity Fair article, The Suspects Wore Louboutins, Coppola’s film is a cinematic schadenfreude delving into celebrity obsession, excessive materialism, and youthful recklessness. I’m definitely one of those people who watches based-on-a-true-story movies and, long after the credits roll, still wants to know more. I mulled over the audacious actions of these teens and wondered why they felt compelled to steal—something that Coppola’s film doesn’t really address. For more info, I sought out Sales’ article, as well as her 2013 book, The Bling Ring: How a Gang of Fame-Obsessed Teens Ripped Off Hollywood and Shocked the World.
Bling_Ring_NancySales

Expanding on her article, Sales’ book exhaustively details how the “Bling Ring” stole over $3 million worth of clothing, jewelry, and accessories from Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, Orlando Bloom, and other Hollywood celebrities, and bragged about their crimes over social media. Incredibly information-savvy, the teens used Google Maps to track down addresses, as well as celebrity news blogs to monitor the comings and goings of their targets. Peer pressure, attaining social cachet, and a desire for fame were a few motivating factors in the crimes. Like the movie, the book is unclear on whether the accused were truly remorseful – its seems more likely they were sorry for getting caught. In any case, readers who love an E! Hollywood True Story-type of tale will appreciate Sales’ exposé.

Given the social and cultural taboos around stealing, I was also curious about depictions of theft and redemption in YA fiction – here are some books that cover the issue in depth without necessarily glamorizing it: 

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