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Q&A with Suzanne Selfors

Spirit coverSpirit Riding Free: Lucky and the Mustangs of Miradero

 

By Suzanne Selfors

Genre: Middle Grade Fiction

Curriculum Subject: Animals, Character Development, Friendship

Grades: 3–7

 

 

In Spirit Riding Free: Lucky and the Mustangs of Miradero, we see Lucky and the town preparing for a big winter storm.  How did this concept develop?  What research and preparation did you do on this time period in order to portray the theme of winter in the wild west?

Since the first book takes place in the spring, I thought it would be fun to have the second book take place in winter. I had to do a lot of research. I live in the Pacific Northwest, so I had to find out what sorts of plants and animals are native to the Arizona high desert (which is basically where the story takes place in my mind.) I had to study weather patterns. I’d already been doing a lot of research on wild mustangs but now I needed to find out what sorts of plants they’d eat in the winter. When Turo is putting winter shoes on the horses, that’s based on an old article someone wrote about how his great grandparents prepared their horses for winter. I also had to research sleighs and how they work. It was fun, like being a detective.

 

The chapters from Spirit’s point of view, give the reader a chance to read about Spirit when he’s not with Lucky in Miradero.  In this book, we get to read about not only Spirit, but, Spirit’s sister and another family member.  Was it hard to craft Spirit’s feelings and perspective during these chapters?  Did you enjoy introducing more of Spirit’s family to the story?

The main job of every writer is to get into the character’s head. So for me, not only did I need to try to understand Lucky’s feelings, but I also had to imagine what it would be like to be a horse. I can’t really know how a horse “thinks”, but I can know how a horse feels. Because as mammals, we have the same feelings of fear, of love, or curiosity. So when I write the story in Spirit’s voice, I simply tap into those emotions. It was fun giving him a sister and showing the bond between them. It doesn’t matter if you have two legs or four, we all want to take care and protect those we love.

 

Lucky continues to keep in touch with her friend Emma from back east, through letters. Did you have a pen pal or friend that lived far away that you kept in contact with as a kid?

When I was in second grade, and a Blue Bird (similar to being a Girl Scout), the members of my troop were assigned pen pals with another troop all the way across the country. And so, for that year, we wrote letters back and forth. We didn’t have computers in those days, or cell phones, so everyone wrote letters. Her name was Karen and I kept writing to her until middle school, so in some ways, we grew up together. We never met but getting her letter ever month was always something I looked forward to.

 

Jim is a single man in Miradero which many people in the town are noticing.  Why is Lucky so upset that her father is consisted an eligible bachelor?

For most of Lucky’s life, it’s been her and her dad. The two of them, side by side, a true team. And that is what Lucky is used to. That is what makes sense to her. So when various people start using the term “eligible bachelor” Lucky’s first reaction is fear. She knows that if her father falls in love and gets married, then it won’t be just the two of them anymore. She doesn’t want things to change with her father. She wants to keep him all to herself. I think that’s a natural reaction. As the story progresses, Lucky begins to feel less afraid and realizes that even if her father begins to love someone new, his love for his daughter will never change.

 

Pru and Maricela have a rivalry going on between them. We learn that one of the reasons for the rivalry is because Maricela is struggling with feelings of being left out.  What advice would you give to kids who feel like Maricela?

Everyone feels left out. That’s the big truth. Even the popular kids. Even the star of the school play. Even the kid who wins an award in an art contest. Even I feel left out sometimes! It’s a natural feeling.

What we need to remember is that it doesn’t matter how many friends we have, what matters is that the one best friend, or the two best friends, are people we enjoy being with, people who are kind and who we can laugh with. It was natural for Pru and Abigail to be friends because they are both crazy about horses. I think the best way to make a friend is to find someone who likes doing the same thing you like doing. Most of my friends are writers!

 

Lucky is a bit of a risk taker, especially when she goes off after Pru and Abigail in the first book, and now, she runs off to help Spirit, when she’s told to stay in town.  Why do think Lucky takes these big risks?  Would you consider yourself a risk taker like Lucky?

I don’t think Lucky is saying to herself, “Wow, I’m taking a big risk.” She’s the kind of person who doesn’t always worry about herself and she often listens to her heart, which guides her to help people or animals in need, even if the situation is dangerous. So she acts with her heart, before she thinks with her head.

I don’t think I’m a risk taker. I don’t ride wild horses across the prairie. But I sure like writing about people who do!

 

The book has a strong message of friendship between people and people to animals.  What other messages do you hope readers will take away from this series?

I hope my readers will embrace the truth that kindness can change world. Being kind to animals makes you a better person. Being kind to the school bully might be the simple act that changes that bully’s life. If we treat all living creatures with kindness, then can you imagine what possibilities await us?

 

Holly Black Returns to Faerie

The Cruel Prince

 

 

Holly Black on Returning to Faerie for her new book THE CRUEL PRINCE

 

 

Holly Black photoI grew up loving faerie stories. I would search through the overgrown and feral lawn ofthe ramshackle Victorian house I grew up in for evidence that faeries existed. I thought they might live in the old termite-ravaged stump, which had been devoured so thoroughly that the wood took on a lace-like quality, full of holes that gave the appearance of little windows. I thought they might live in the knotholes of trees or in leafy squirrel nests.

 

I didn’t give much thought about what would happen if I found that evidence. Back then, what I wanted more than anything, was for something to happen. I had a vast yearning for magic. And faerie stories appealed to me, with the strange resonance of their rules. One way to see faeries, for instance, is to stand with one foot in the water and one on land — because you are in both places and neither place at once. Faeries are liminal creatures, appearing between the hours of dusk and dawn, when it is not quite day and not quite night. And they appear to teenagers, who are no longer quite children and yet not quite adults either. Faeries are creatures of transformation —hard to pin down.

 

My first book, Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale, came out in 2002. I was incredibly lucky to stumble into YA when I did, on the eve of a massive expansion. I was there to witness the growth of this still relatively new publishing category as it ate up bookstore floor space and redefined itself. Before, YA had had a small shelf in the children’s department, next to the board books. It was like a sleepy town on the eve of a boom. What I loved about those early days of development is that they allowed for experimentation. Readers coming to YA didn’t necessarily come specifically for fantasy, science fiction, mystery, or romance. They were willing to read expansively, having never been taught not to. They made bestsellers out of books of poetry. YA grew and I got to tell my faerie stories and then I told other stories too.

 

Over the last decade and a half, I’ve seen the industry expand and narrow and now it feels as though it is on the eve of expansion again. We’re seeing more people’s stories being told, specifically stories by writers of color and LGBTQ+ writers, stories that reflect a broader spectrum of experience, from living with mental illness to disability representation. We’re seeing more genre-blending, more experimentation, more pushing at the edges of what’s been perceived as YA, both in terms of content and age of readership. In short, we’re seeing more.

 

And now I am happy to be coming back to writing about faeries. In The Cruel Prince, I am telling the kind of story I haven’t before — one no longer on the outskirts of Faerie, but deep inside. It’s a story my younger self couldn’t have written.

 

It’s about a girl named Jude with two sisters, Vivienne and Taryn. Vivi is the oldest. They were born in the human world and while Vivi had cat eyes and lightly furred pointed ears, they didn’t think much about that while they roamed around their own backyard. Then one day, a man with eyes like Vivi’s comes to their front door. He gets into an argument with their mother and it becomes clear that he’s accusing her of being his wife and running off with his heir. The more Jude looks at him, the more she realizes his skin is tinted green and there’s something wrong with his teeth because his bottom incisors are longer than they should be. And when he catches sight of her, he’s enraged — because clearly his wife didn’t just run off with his kid, but had more kids with someone else.

 

Then Jude’s dad comes out of the backyard and he has a sword with him. A moment later, the man has his own sword out and her dad is dead. Jude’s mom tries to run, but he throws his sword and kills her too.

 

This man turns out to be a faerie, of course. And he wants to take Vivi back to Faerie.  But he takes Jude and Taryn too because what else is he going to do with them? He just killed their parents and from his perspective, they are his wife’s kids and thus his problem. So these two mortal girls grow up in Faerie — raised by this guy who is absolutely terrifying to them — but eventually, also kind of their dad.

 

The book is sort of a reverse-changeling story. I love changeling stories, because I am always interested in characters who have their feet in two worlds and because being a changeling literalizes something that’s universally true. We all feel like we don’t fit in sometimes. And in The Cruel Prince, Jude doesn’t fit. She’s not bound by the same rules — she can lie and faeries can’t. She’s not a magical being who will live forever, she doesn’t smell like crushed verbena, and she doesn’t really have a position in the Court of the High King of Elfhame.

 

The Cruel Prince is a story about sisters, it’s kind of about moving and the trauma of new schools, it’s kind of about dads and daughters, and about becoming what we’re most afraid of. It’s about what makes a family, how we define ourselves, how we survive. I feel like those questions are young adult preoccupations and concerns, but also they are concerns that all of us may be feeling more deeply in this present moment. And it’s also a story about princes, plots, court intrigue, strategy, and swordfighting.

 

Stepping into writing Faerie stories again, I am looking both backwards and forwards. It is said that one can never step into the same river twice and in YA that is especially true. It’s a liminal genre. A genre of genres, of reinvention and transformation. It stands between books for children and for adults, belonging to both and neither. And at fifty years of age, it has grown broader and deeper, but remains blessedly, magically hard to pin down.

 

The Cruel Prince cover
 The Cruel Prince hits shelves January 2, 2018. 

BRANDY COLBERT ON WRITING LITTLE & LION

I was having dinner with my cousin last year when she asked what my book Little & Lion is about. I gave a disjointed pitch, but she said it sounded interesting and circled back to my description of the main character, Suzette.

“Black, bisexual, and Jewish?” she asked.

I waited for her to question my choice to write about a character that represented several marginalizations. She never did.

“Cool,” she said. “My cousin on the other side of my family is black, lesbian, and Jewish. I’ll tell her to check it out.”

My eyes widened immediately. I knew that although my Suzette was fictional, more than a few people had to share her specific collection of identities in the real world. But I never expected to be so closely connected to someone who could “validate” the inclusiveness of my book.
I didn’t set out to write a highly diverse novel, which is how Little & Lion is often described. My only goal was to depict the Los Angeles that I live in and that very much exists.

I’ve talked a lot about how I grew up in a Midwestern town with a very small black population; there weren’t many people who looked like me, and especially not at the schools I attended. But I also craved meeting people from different cultures and ethnicities. I wanted to learn what it meant to have brown skin but not be black. I wanted to meet people who were part of the LGBTQ community, because by the time I was in high school, I’d met only one gay person—an adult man—who was out in my hometown, and I knew that number, even in a city as small as ours, was abysmal.

I grew up in a Baptist church, and I can’t remember when I first realized there were other religions, but I was instantly fascinated. Almost everyone I’d ever known had been Christian. My hometown has an overwhelming number of churches; on a recent visit, I counted about four within a two-block radius, and that’s not uncommon. I wanted to know about other religions and what millions of people around the world believed, even if it wasn’t reflected where I grew up. I finally took a Judaism class after high school, which was one of the most interesting courses in my college career, by far. It was taught by a woman, the rabbi at the only synagogue in town.

Moving to Los Angeles after college, I was astounded by how different it was from my hometown. People wore what they wanted and their outfits didn’t all look the same. They had varying shades of brown skin and diverse backgrounds to go with them. They spoke multiple languages and observed various religions—or, sometimes, they practiced nothing at all. They were gay and lesbian and bisexual and transgender and queer. They talked openly about their physical disabilities and mental illness. Sometimes one person claimed several of these identities at once.
I was surprised, and tremendously pleased. I’d lived for twenty-two years in a place where I was often ridiculed and judged for the color of my skin, and now there were so many people with identities that weren’t white and Christian and straight and able-bodied living and working among me. Los Angeles is the sort of city that celebrates the diversity of its inhabitants with neighborhoods like Chinatown and Little Ethiopia and West Hollywood and Boyle Heights, and I finally felt like I was home.

Sometimes people seem taken aback by a character that is Jewish, black, and bisexual, or a black and Korean-American boy who wears hearing aids, or a pansexual Latina. And some people are especially troubled by the fact that these identities can all exist in one novel. They believe that exploring these intersections is trying too hard to be politically correct, or that it’s just a tad too much diversity for one story. And I believe that to be insulting to people who are actually living these lives.

In Little & Lion, Suzette is made to feel ashamed about parts of her life and thus feels compelled to hide them. I grew up with people who believed they needed to hide their sexual identities because it made them too different in our small, homogenous town. And I’m certain there are people in several generations of my black Southern family who have felt the same, either keeping their romantic lives private or disengaging completely from the family to avoid potential judgment. I also know people whose bilingual parents didn’t teach them Spanish because they feared it would make them too different to be accepted.

Telling others that their identities are too diverse to be believable is erasure. It perpetuates the idea that we should all think and look and act the same, and that people can and should only concentrate on one aspect of their identity. Identity is at once private and also quite public in some instances.

Novels are fiction, but we know they can act as windows—a glimpse into the lives of people who look or act or believe differently than us. Too many children and teens don’t have the good fortune of growing up in diverse or inclusive neighborhoods and towns, and a book might be the closest they can get to learning about unfamiliar cultures and communities. Which is only a good thing, because books that serve as windows foster empathy.

I’m hopeful for the future of children’s literature and grateful that kids and teens have the chance to read a much more diverse array of books than I had when I was young.

And I hope there will be a day in the near future when people don’t find it unusual or unrealistic to read about a girl who just happens to be black, bisexual, and Jewish

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brandy Colbert was born and raised in Springfield, Missouri. Her debut novel, Pointe, won the 2014 Cyblis Award for young adult fiction and was named a best book of 2014 by Publishers Weekly, BuzzFeed, Book Riot, and more. She was chosen as a Publishers Weekly Flying Start for spring 2014. Brandy works as a copyeditor and lives in Los Angeles, California.

 

ABOUT THE BOOK

★ “Subtle, neatly interwoven exploration of intersectionality.” –Booklist

★ “Colbert sensitively confronts misconceptions about mental illness, bisexuality, and intersectional identity.” –Kirkus

★ “Moving.” –School Library Journal

When Suzette comes home to Los Angeles from her boarding school in New England, she isn’t sure if she’ll ever want to go back. L.A. is where her friends and family are (along with her crush, Emil). And her stepbrother, Lionel, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, needs her emotional support.

But as she settles into her old life, Suzette finds herself falling for someone new…the same girl her brother is in love with. When Lionel’s disorder spirals out of control, Suzette is forced to confront her past mistakes and find a way to help her brother before he hurts himself–or worse.

Want to know even more about Little & Lion? Listen to our LB School Podcast interview with Brandy Colbert here.

Brandy Colbert on Writing Little & Lion

Little & Lion cover

I was having dinner with my cousin last year when she asked what my book Little & Lion is about. I gave a disjointed pitch, but she said it sounded interesting and circled back to my description of the main character, Suzette.

“Black, bisexual, and Jewish?” she asked.

I waited for her to question my choice to write about a character that represented several marginalizations. She never did.

“Cool,” she said. “My cousin on the other side of my family is black, lesbian, and Jewish. I’ll tell her to check it out.”

My eyes widened immediately. I knew that although my Suzette was fictional, more than a few people had to share her specific collection of identities in the real world. But I never expected to be so closely connected to someone who could “validate” the inclusiveness of my book.
I didn’t set out to write a highly diverse novel, which is how Little & Lion is often described. My only goal was to depict the Los Angeles that I live in and that very much exists.

I’ve talked a lot about how I grew up in a Midwestern town with a very small black population; there weren’t many people who looked like me, and especially not at the schools I attended. But I also craved meeting people from different cultures and ethnicities. I wanted to learn what it meant to have brown skin but not be black. I wanted to meet people who were part of the LGBTQ community, because by the time I was in high school, I’d met only one gay person—an adult man—who was out in my hometown, and I knew that number, even in a city as small as ours, was abysmal.

I grew up in a Baptist church, and I can’t remember when I first realized there were other religions, but I was instantly fascinated. Almost everyone I’d ever known had been Christian. My hometown has an overwhelming number of churches; on a recent visit, I counted about four within a two-block radius, and that’s not uncommon. I wanted to know about other religions and what millions of people around the world believed, even if it wasn’t reflected where I grew up. I finally took a Judaism class after high school, which was one of the most interesting courses in my college career, by far. It was taught by a woman, the rabbi at the only synagogue in town.

Moving to Los Angeles after college, I was astounded by how different it was from my hometown. People wore what they wanted and their outfits didn’t all look the same. They had varying shades of brown skin and diverse backgrounds to go with them. They spoke multiple languages and observed various religions—or, sometimes, they practiced nothing at all. They were gay and lesbian and bisexual and transgender and queer. They talked openly about their physical disabilities and mental illness. Sometimes one person claimed several of these identities at once.
I was surprised, and tremendously pleased. I’d lived for twenty-two years in a place where I was often ridiculed and judged for the color of my skin, and now there were so many people with identities that weren’t white and Christian and straight and able-bodied living and working among me. Los Angeles is the sort of city that celebrates the diversity of its inhabitants with neighborhoods like Chinatown and Little Ethiopia and West Hollywood and Boyle Heights, and I finally felt like I was home.

Sometimes people seem taken aback by a character that is Jewish, black, and bisexual, or a black and Korean-American boy who wears hearing aids, or a pansexual Latina. And some people are especially troubled by the fact that these identities can all exist in one novel. They believe that exploring these intersections is trying too hard to be politically correct, or that it’s just a tad too much diversity for one story. And I believe that to be insulting to people who are actually living these lives.

In Little & Lion, Suzette is made to feel ashamed about parts of her life and thus feels compelled to hide them. I grew up with people who believed they needed to hide their sexual identities because it made them too different in our small, homogenous town. And I’m certain there are people in several generations of my black Southern family who have felt the same, either keeping their romantic lives private or disengaging completely from the family to avoid potential judgment. I also know people whose bilingual parents didn’t teach them Spanish because they feared it would make them too different to be accepted.

Telling others that their identities are too diverse to be believable is erasure. It perpetuates the idea that we should all think and look and act the same, and that people can and should only concentrate on one aspect of their identity. Identity is at once private and also quite public in some instances.

Novels are fiction, but we know they can act as windows—a glimpse into the lives of people who look or act or believe differently than us. Too many children and teens don’t have the good fortune of growing up in diverse or inclusive neighborhoods and towns, and a book might be the closest they can get to learning about unfamiliar cultures and communities. Which is only a good thing, because books that serve as windows foster empathy.

I’m hopeful for the future of children’s literature and grateful that kids and teens have the chance to read a much more diverse array of books than I had when I was young.

And I hope there will be a day in the near future when people don’t find it unusual or unrealistic to read about a girl who just happens to be black, bisexual, and Jewish

 

Brandy Colbert photoABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brandy Colbert was born and raised in Springfield, Missouri. Her debut novel, Pointe, won the 2014 Cyblis Award for young adult fiction and was named a best book of 2014 by Publishers Weekly, BuzzFeed, Book Riot, and more. She was chosen as a Publishers Weekly Flying Start for spring 2014. Brandy works as a copyeditor and lives in Los Angeles, California.

 

ABOUT THE BOOK

★ “Subtle, neatly interwoven exploration of intersectionality.” –Booklist

★ “Colbert sensitively confronts misconceptions about mental illness, bisexuality, and intersectional identity.” –Kirkus

★ “Moving.” –School Library Journal

 

When Suzette comes home to Los Angeles from her boarding school in New England, she isn’t sure if she’ll ever want to go back. L.A. is where her friends and family are (along with her crush, Emil). And her stepbrother, Lionel, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, needs her emotional support.

But as she settles into her old life, Suzette finds herself falling for someone new…the same girl her brother is in love with. When Lionel’s disorder spirals out of control, Suzette is forced to confront her past mistakes and find a way to help her brother before he hurts himself–or worse.

 

Want to know even more about Little & Lion? Listen to our LB School Podcast interview with Brandy Colbert here.

Libba Bray on Writing BEFORE THE DEVIL BREAKS YOU

 

 

On Writing BEFORE THE DEVIL BREAKS YOU

 

by Libba Bray

 

I have always adored ghost stories.

 

Some of my earliest memories are of watching Hammer horror films and episodes of “Dark Shadows,” reading pulp monster comics, and whispering spooky tales above a flashlight’s glow during sleepovers. The summer I was nine, I spent a week in North Carolina with my great-grandmother, whom I mostly knew only through letters. I was nervous about our visit until I discovered our mutual love of the supernatural. Grandmother Kutz had been raised by her psychic grandmother and undertaker grandfather and was full of Pennsylvania Dutch superstitions: It’s bad luck to place a hat on the bed; A sound heard three times is an ominous warning; A bird hitting the window portends death in three days. During my week with her I was thrilled to hear tales of restless spirits who refused to stay put in their graves.

 

Being creepy is a family tradition. It was inevitable that I’d want to write my own ghost stories someday. Enter The Diviners.

 

Before the Devil Breaks You is the third book of The Diviners series, a four book supernatural tale set against the neon blaze of a Jazz Age New York City where ghosts and demons skulk the streets and subways and a malevolent force is spreading across the land—an army of the hungry dead led by the mysterious King of Crows. “It’s The Great Gatsby meets Stephen King,” as my editor, Alvina Ling, i.e., She Who Is Far Cleverer Than I, puts it.

 

I set out to tell a ghost story, but more specifically, I wanted to write an American ghost story, one informed by the many ideals, conflicts, myths, and contradictions of our national DNA. After all, we are a nation founded on the idea that all people are created equally and imbued with certain inalienable rights; we are also a nation founded on genocide and centuries of slavery. We are a country built by the richness of immigrants arriving with their many traditions, cultures, beliefs, religions, and hopes. And we are a country prone to prejudice, xenophobia, and arguments about identity. Our dreams and sins are fertile ground for restless spirits. Even our ghosts have ambitions.

 

As a New Yorker, I’ve long been fascinated by Ward’s and Randall’s Islands, two joined fists of land sitting in the middle of the East River and presided over by the poetically named Hell Gate Bridge. (C’mon. It’s called the Hell Gate, people!) Ward’s and Randall’s were, at various points, home to an asylum, an inebriates’ home, a juvenile delinquent center, and a poor house. They were repositories for New York’s unwanted—pushed out of sight and out of mind. Not so coincidentally, the islands were also home to potter’s fields—mass graves of unclaimed dead. I began to wonder about the voices of those long-neglected, forgotten people. What sort of ghosts might they become? Were they angry? Frightened? Would they carry warnings for the living? Would they want revenge? And what of the King of Crows? What plan did he have in store for them?

 

Before the Devil Breaks You takes readers to a 1920s New York City full of magic and mysticism, speakeasies, gangsters, the Ziegfeld Follies, Harlem Renaissance, rising radio stars, street-tough pickpockets, Tin Pan Alley songwriters, star-crossed lovers, wisecracking newshounds, vicious gossip columnists, and elderly witches. It shows readers a New York City of anarchists, the eugenics movement, secret government projects, and the horrors of war. It takes them to Brooklyn’s Vitagraph movie studio, where many dreams are built, and to Ward’s Island, where some dreams are buried. It’s a story of gifted young people: object readers, dream walkers, mystical healers, clairvoyants, and interpreters for the dead, whose skills will be needed in an epic battle of good and evil in which the stakes are no less than the soul of a nation.

 

Change happens. Time moves on. Today, the asylums, refuges, and poor houses of Ward’s and Randall’s islands are long gone, replaced by tennis camps, soccer fields, and festival concerts selling overpriced bottles of water. But the forgotten dead still lie in their mass graves below.

 

And in 2017 America we are still grappling with the unsettled ghosts of our past.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Libba Bray is the New York Times bestselling author of The Gemma Doyle trilogy (A Great and Terrible BeautyRebel AngelsThe Sweet Far Thing); the Michael L. Printz Award-winning Going BovineBeauty Queens, an L.A. Times Book Prize finalist; and The Diviners series. She is originally from Texas but makes her home in Brooklyn, NY, with her husband, son, and two sociopathic cats.  You can find her at LibbaBray.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Before the Devil Breaks You cover

ABOUT THE BOOK

 

The Diviners are back in the thrilling and eerie third installment by award-winning author Libba Bray.

 

After battling a supernatural sleeping sickness that nearly claimed two of their own, the Diviners have had enough of lies. They’re more determined than ever to uncover the mystery behind their extraordinary powers, even as they face off against an all-new terror. Out on Ward’s Island, far from the city’s bustle, sits a mental hospital haunted by the lost souls of people long forgotten – ghosts who have unusual and dangerous ties to the man in the stovepipe hat, also known as the King of Crows.

Sujean Rim on Writing & Illustrating CHEE-KEE: A PANDA IN BEARLAND

 

When I was little, I didn’t like being asked “What are you?” and “Where are you from?” because it made me feel like I didn’t really belong. I would answer, “I’m from here, I’m an American born in Brooklyn.”

 

I just wanted to fit in.

 

But when I began to think about my parents immigrating to the United States, I realized how easy I had it.

 

My mom and dad were born and raised in South Korea, and like so many others, they believed in the American dream. They loved what this country stood for and had faith that coming to America would make their lives better, and make their children’s futures brighter.

 

My dad was in the 1960 and 1964 Olympics; he was a discus and hammer thrower, and he was pretty good. So when he was among a group of international athletes invited to participate in a US-sponsored athletic program, he jumped at the opportunity. And in 1967, my parents packed up their lives, took about five different connecting flights, and moved to the United States of America.

 

Life was an adjustment to say the least.

 

They moved around a bit for various job opportunities, and without another Korean soul in sight, they had a lot to learn on their own. My parents not only looked different and hardly spoke English, but they came with an entirely different set of traditions.

 

“What are you?” and “Where do you come from?” were accompanied with “Can’t you speak English?” and “Don’t you know how to do this?” They endured lots of stares and even some spying by curious neighbors. As you can imagine, it wasn’t always comfortable. But no matter how lost they felt and how confusing it was just to go grocery shopping (where was the kimchi aisle?), my mom and dad hung in there.

 

Sure, there were some hard times and tears of frustration, but they made a home for themselves, and they did it by being true to who they are. I am so proud of them.

 

Their journey was the inspiration for the Loo family. Since pandas are most commonly found in China, and my parents come from Korea, I decided to draw from both Asian cultures to create the fictional Island of Coney. While there are nods to both countries in the artwork, my favorite detail is in the sailboat that the Loo family arrives in: I made the sail from an old Korean newspaper article I found about my dad and his days as an athlete.

 

This book is a valentine to my mom and dad, but it’s also dedicated to anyone who has ever felt like fish out of water, an odd bird…or a chubby little panda in a big bear of a world.

 

 

Sujean Rim coverABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sujean Rim wrote and illustrated the Birdie series, as well as illustrated many campaigns for clients including Target, UNAIDS, Tiffany & Co., Bloomingdale’s, and more. Sujean lives with family in New York. Visit her online at sujeanrim.com or on Twitter at @sujeanie.

 

Chee-Kee: A Panda in Bearland coverABOUT THE BOOK

The Loo family has traveled very far to start a new life. In Bearland, none of the other bears look, talk, or act like the Loo family. For Chee-Kee Loo, everything is strange; and he feels like he’ll never fit in. But one day, some bears find themselves in a jam, and Chee-Kee might be just the right panda to save the day.

 

In this heartfelt and lovable story, meet Chee-Kee the panda, a one-of-a-kind bear in all the best ways. Based on Sujean’s family’s experience immigrating from South Korea to the United States, this picture book is full of many layers of meaning, humor and heart with universal appeal and a fresh perspective.

Jennifer Latham on Writing DREAMLAND BURNING

Before the gunfire and flames, there was a hand-stitched dress—fitted and fine—that made Veneice Dunn feel beautiful. On May 31, 1921, she wasn’t thinking about how attacks on black communities had rocked Atlanta, St. Louis, Omaha, and Chicago in recent years. Or about how willing Tulsa law enforcement officials were to turn a blind eye to vigilante “justice.” Or even about Dick Rowland, the young black man arrested in Tulsa that morning on a more-than-questionable charge of “assault” on a white woman. Veneice was a junior at Booker T. Washington High School, and she was thinking about her prom.

 

But that very afternoon, a white friend of her father’s drove to the Dunn’s home in the thriving black section of Jim Crow-segregated Tulsa called Greenwood. He told them a crowd of angry white men with the makings of a lynch mob had gathered in front of the courthouse where Rowland was imprisoned. There were rumblings the evening’s planned violence wouldn’t stop with a lynching, he said. Greenwood was at risk, and the Dunns should stay with him in the country until the threat passed.

 

So Veneice packed a small bag, laid the lovely blue gown on her bed, and prayed her prom would go on the next evening as planned.

 

It didn’t.

 

By mid-afternoon on June 1, the Dunn’s home had been looted and burned by white rioters, along with twelve hundred other residences and businesses. “America’s Black Wall Street” lay in ashes, and at least three hundred people—most of them black—were dead. Veneice never danced in her gown, and she spent years to come dreading the prospect of seeing it on a white woman downtown.

 

Even though the Tulsa race riot (which many Tulsans now refer to as a race massacre) was possibly the worst in US history, it left barely a ripple as it disappeared beneath our collective conscience. In fact, I’d lived here nearly three years before I even heard about it. Once I did, though, I needed to know more.

 

Unfortunately, there aren’t many books on the subject. The ones out there are excellent, but the sad truth is that not much was written about the violence when it occurred, and much of the documentation was destroyed. Those photos and letters and articles that remain take up only a few legal boxes in the University of Tulsa’s archives. Even the June 1 Tulsa Tribune editorial that reportedly called for Dick Rowland’s lynching was physically torn from the Tribune’s own archived copy. To this day, no one knows for sure what it said.

 

Still, some survivors’ stories live on. A few, like Veneice’s, were published. Others are preserved on audio and video recordings of the survivors themselves. Every one of them will break your heart.

 

Honestly, my brain is Teflon-coated when it comes to remembering dates and timelines. But the survivors’ stories I found sank in deep and inspired me to write Dreamland Burning. Over four years of research went into it, and yes, Veneice’s dress does make a brief cameo appearance toward the end. But since I knew from the start that it would be wrong to speak for survivors who have already spoken for themselves, my characters are purely fictional. They tell their stories on behalf of those who didn’t survive the riot, as well as those who lived but were never heard. I hope William and Joseph and Ruby speak truth to readers. I hope they make people want to learn more about the riot. And I hope that maybe—possibly—they might even break a few hearts…and mend them right back up again.

 

 

 

Jennifer Latham Author PhotoABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Jennifer Latham is an army brat with a soft spot for kids, books, and poorly behaved dogs. She is the author of acclaimed Scarlett Undercover.  Dreamland Burning is Jen’s second novel.  This hard-hitting novel of truth, memory, and history has received starred reviews from Booklist, Kirkus and School Library Journal.  Jen lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with her husband and two daughters. Visit her website at jenniferlatham.com or on Twitter at @jenandapen.

 

 

 

Dreamland Burning coverABOUT THE BOOK

 

★ “Unflinching.” –Booklist                    ★ “Masterfully told.” –Kirkus                    ★ “Enthralling.” –School Library Journal

 

One of the deadliest race riots in US history happened in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on a hot 1921 night when the economically and culturally thriving black community of Greenwood was burned to the ground. Dreamland Burning gives voice to this little-known moment in history, crossing historical fiction with a cold case mystery in a story that makes bold statements about how racial tensions have changed–or haven’t–in nearly 100 years.

 

 

 

Discover even more about the story behind the story,

including the complexities of character voice, plot, and writing historical fiction,

in our LB School Podcast interview with Jennifer Latham here.