March 2007 Archives

Leaving On a Jet Plane

Oh, it's been crazy these last two weeks! The catalog has gone to print, the next book, due to arrive in May, needs one final proof before it goes to print, and I've prepared everything at the office so that I can leave for a two-week vacation-- Sunday. Actually, it's not all entirely vacation. Though we'll be in Taiwan for a week and Japan for a week, we will meet Holly Thompson, the author of our Spring 2008 book, in Tokyo.

Isn't it funny how, in this age of email, we can work with parties anywhere in the world and get entire books published without ever meeting each other? Meeting any of the authors I work with is a real treat, and especially one who lives halfway around the world. Last year, when we were in Hong Kong, we just missed Roseanne Thong, who was on vacation herself. But this time, the planets have aligned and we will get a chance to meet Holly, a wonderful writer, whose book you will really love.

So we're off for two weeks. See you when I get back, if not sooner...

An Unpardonable Lapse

I cannot believe that it's been so long since my last post. How terrible I am!

Don't worry, I'm still here. I'm working on a lot of things these days: our next catalog will be mailing in a few weeks. A warning: it's going to be a slim one. This spring, the website will be the only place to browse our entire selection of books. I hope this change doesn't cause too great an inconvenience, but we'll see.

Another project is our the upcoming book, which should be released in May, entitled Romina's Rangoli. It's about a girl who is half Mexican and half Indian. More on that in a later post.

For the fall, we will be publishing a book that takes place in Japan. The most exciting thing about this is that the author and illustrator are both from Japan, and in two weeks, I will be in Tokyo visiting with the author, Holly Thompson. How exciting is that! E and I will visit with her, then we will join a tour to Osaka, Kyoto, and surrounding areas. That will be an amazing trip. I may even be able to post some pictures if we have an internet connection.
Here's a recent quote found on Big A Little a:

One scholar (on a great panel on Multicultural Children's Books) argued that the "most effective [multicultural] books are ones that 'other' the white middle class reader."

My first thought was, what does this scholar mean by "most effective"? Trying to depict the feeling of "otherness" that a multicultural person might feel living among a mostly white middle class community? How would one even do this? In college, I studied multicultural literature written by Derek Walcott, who used a significantly large amount of untranslated non-English phrases and unexplained acronyms and references that would confuse the readers who are not of that multi-lingual, multi-ethnic Carribean culture. While I admired his lyricism, I felt alienated when reading Walcott's work, and not a in a good way. So, if we steep our writing too much in the specifics of "the other" culture without explanations, wouldn't that in a way alienate the white readers if we give a world in which nothing is familiar? Wouldn't it sort of defeat the purpose of bringing diverse peoples closer through story, which is my personal definition of effective literature, with or without the multiculturalism?

Or are we as creators of multicultural stories trying to educate the white middle class reader with gentle translations and explanations? But then every multicultural person has a unique experience, and where would the line be drawn to distinguish what is universal and what is specific only to the story? Would we be accused of "misrepresenting" or "selling out" from the multicultural communities that most look like us?

As a writer of YA multicultural fiction, I try not to think about what people will think when I write. I approach the creation of story first and foremost with the intension of being true to the core of the character.

Yet, ultimately one cannot escape issues surrounding multicultural settings when writing multicultural stories. At a recent conference, I heard a speech given by Newbery-winning, Korean-American author Linda Sue Park, and one of her assertions was that it is impossible to separate character from setting, which contains not only place, time, but also the culture, including socially acceptable behavior. Thus, to take examples from my own works-in-progress, a Chinese-American teenager living in San Francisco's Chinatown in 1940 would have much more restrictions to her lifestyle (most didn't venture outside of San Francisco) than a modern-day San Francisco South Bay-based Chinese-American teenager who is free to go where she pleases and not worry too much about discrimination or feeling like "the other."

Perhaps the issue really lies in the knowledge of the reader. Like with one's protagonist, a reader will only know whatever she/he has been exposed to via her/his specific setting and culture, and of course that range is extremely wide and diverse. After I finish drafting my multicultural stories, I solicit feedback from non-Asian writers, and often I've been surprised by some comments and confusion over what I consider to be really basic issues.

Here's an example of a conversation I've had more than once when receiving feedback on the beginning of my contemporary Asian-American YA:

She: "How do I know your main character is Chinese?"
Me: "She's not Chinese. She's Chinese-American born in America. So really she's American."
She: "Well, I need to know somewhere that she's Chinese because she sounds just like a modern American teenager."
Me: "She IS a modern American teenager."

If I was in the mostly white Anglo-Saxon Protestant homogenized Texan community of my childhood, I would not have been quite so surprised to have such a conversation. In such a community, I was very used to being "the other" with the constant need to educate and explain my background. In such a community where American Born Asians were not common, I was very used to answering questions like, "Where are you from?" and receiving perceived compliments like "Your English is really good." But recently two separate instances of this conversation occurred in the culturally diverse, politically correct San Francisco Bay Area, where Asian-Americans and many international and ethnic-American communities co-mingle. Thus, I am reminded that what I am writing is important. I am reminded there is still a need to broaden the experiences of mainstream American readers and show them that Asian-Americans are just as American as anyone else.

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Blog Contributors

Renee Ting is the President and Publisher of Shen's Books. She is the author of The Prince's Diary and the blog, Renee's Book of the Day.

Emily Jiang is a writer of children's and YA literature. She also blogs at TLeaf Readings.

Shen’s Books is a publisher of multicultural children’s literature that emphasizes cultural diversity and tolerance, with a focus on introducing children to the cultures of Asia.

Through books, we can share a world a stories, building greater understanding and tolerance within our increasingly diverse communities as well as throughout our continuously shrinking globe.


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