{to my tallest little brother}

Ducking social media through July and August doesn’t mean I’ve missed anything, it’s just that I’ve largely held my silence. I would have still, but a young friend reached out to me. He grew up in LA, and is of Mexican American descent, and felt like he shouldn’t speak up right now, as a brown person… but he wrote, nervously, to extend his sympathies to me, as a fellow human being. Which kind of broke my heart. So shines a good deed in a weary world, as the Bard would say. So. I wrote him a note:

Mi hermanito precioso,

I often think that it would be useful to belong to a denomination which follows a liturgy. Because waking up to a news cycle like this has me simply saying over and over again, “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy,” like the words of an abruptly simplified mass spinning out into infinity.

Lord, have mercy. What a mess.

Like a faulty foundation will topple an entire building before its time, the foundational flaw in in our system of laws – that of the 2nd Amendment is not really for all people, only white people – is reverberating throughout the nation. There are cracks in the foundation, the floor is collapsing, and we are sinking down, down, down.

I struggle to articulate how long it took me to look at this head on; it was so much easier to just agree, “Oh, yeah, all lives matter.” As time went on, though, it grew harder to remain silent, as those who complained most loudly about the Black Lives Matter movement seem to believe those protesting police violence put an invisible “only” in front of the words: as if they mean “ONLY black lives matter.” A people clearly receiving a message from a largely indifferent culture that no, your lives don’t matter don’t need salt rubbed into the wound with a tsk-tsking and finger shaking about being more inclusive. As I’ve tried to explain it to more than one person, if you had lung cancer, you would be about treating your lungs, not ignoring the lungs in favor of the elbows, under the lofty idea that “all body parts matter.” You’d be treating the lungs, if the lungs were where the problem was, would you not? It’s about focus, not exclusion. But few people make the effort to understand this — because we are a people who rely on all caps and incoherence. We favor a rush to response rather than slow reason.

Lord, have mercy. We are such a mess.

Know what else is in my liturgy? Those who live by the sword will die by it.

I believe this is so, so true. In every way. I know that there are nations and states who have open carry, but you know how I feel about guns, and the machismo that goes with them. If people don’t respect me and my words, they’ll never respect that I have lethal force, until I use it. If people can’t respect the badge – and they can’t, legitimately, in many instances – then they’re only allowed to fear the lethal force it employs. If I give in to the urge to slice and dice instead of think, even verbally, I, too, will bleed.

We – and by this “we” I mean the law enforcement and the legal system and the larger society – have to become aware that all of us bleed and to become aware that indifference to the blood of our brothers and sisters will assure that we bleed out, too.

MLK and Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Malcolm X — every one of them spoke of the need to come together and support social justice for each other, as black and brown and white. Our outrage may be what brings us to stand shoulder to shoulder, but our need to staunch the wounds is what will have to keep us standing, long after this immediate disaster is over. It has just happened too many times before – too many times before Trayvon Martin, even – that we’ve all rallied and said all the right things, and then let the momentum of peace and justice for all fade. It’s easy to be distracted by the next thing. But, my biggest prayer is that we learn to pay attention. This has to stop.

Or the endless litany of pleas and tears is basically por nada.

Love you back,


PS – And, I have no idea what you’re intimidated about. This stuff is hard to write through, hard to think about. What is it with you people thinking writers judge you like they’re your English teacher?????? I’d NEVER do that!! *cough*

May you find a moment in which you extend peace to your fellow human being, and have it mirrored back to you.

{dear mr. handler}

November 20, 2014

Dear Mr. Handler:

I remember the last two National Book Award books I’ve read – the Gene Yang and the Sherman Alexie books both blew me away, so I know BROWN GIRL DREAMING must be STUPENDOUS. So soon after Ms. Woodson’s words during the We Need Diverse Books debacle, this award is a real triumph. I am SO pleased for Jacqueline Woodson! These are my thoughts today, while you’re beating yourself up at home, probably wishing to God that you had never seen a green-and-white striped melon, much less told an allergy joke, expressed lighthearted dismay about not being eligible for the CSK Award, or made light of racial profiling. Today you are possibly feeling a little like the Paula Deen of the kidlitosphere.

Dear Mr. Handler, thank you for acknowledging that you spoke with your mouth full of privilege, and with your eyes blinded by it. Thank you for understanding the extent to which you had erred, and thank you for your apology. I am writing to remind you that the best apologies on earth are non erbis sed operis; not words, but deeds. You made a solid and humble apology – acknowledging what you did, not blaming anyone else or excusing yourself. But, the very best apologies make restitution. Here’s what I’d like to suggest:

First, buy Ms. Woodson a case of high-end champagne or whatever non-alcoholic fancy bottled drink of her choosing. Raise a silent glass to her well-deserved award for sharing such a personal and touching story, and applaud again the National Book Foundation’s good taste in awarding her this honor.

Next, buy half a print run of BROWN GIRL DREAMING. Take it in your mittened hands, and walk it around frigid New York. Press it into the warm palms of school children in large suburban schools. Press it into the hands of middle-aged shoppers at the Mall. Press it into the hands of elderly people coming out of church. Fly to a different state. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Finally, in silence, allow the furor to die. Don’t speak. Let your acknowledgement of your error be your last words to the Outrage Machine that is Twitter on this subject. By your silence, you can assist in directing the attention back to Jacqueline Woodson where it rightfully belongs. The social media world is a vicious critic, quick to indict, quick to a blood frenzy – and you may feel this sting for awhile, but lifting up someone else has always been the best way to mitigate the effects of negativity. Using your influence, your money and your time to boost this talented and lovely author is honestly the least – and the best – you can do.

And, know that this too shall pass.

Still a fan,



As a postscript, I want to respond to the idea of “permission racism:”

I’d previously suggested that Mr. Handler put his head down, close his mouth up, and Do Better. Doing Better may eventually mean an explanation — but how about at a We Need Diverse Books event, and not on Twitter? Perhaps at a public event, in person, he can say why he thought his remarks were funny/edgy, and why he now knows that he’s wrong and what he’s going to do with his newfound understanding. That would be a powerful step in further opening the door on dialogue about race in publishing.

His fund matching to me isn’t giving him permission to be racist after the fact. A part of a good apology is to own what you did, and the final piece is to take steps to make restitution. He can’t restore the whole night – we don’t time travel yet, and he’s not hardly a god – but I think he’s doing so much more than many others would in his position. Which is maybe faint praise, but it’s what I’ve got. For me, this is about US as kidlitosphere people. I don’t want us to be vicious. I don’t want Daniel Handler to be the Paula Deen of the kidlitosphere… I really don’t. And I think we shouldn’t let the Outrage Machine of Twitter goad us into asking him to do unrealistic, ridiculous mea culpas through his whole life, and still act like there is NO forgiveness for him, at any point, at any date, EVER, because Racist! and Let’s Get Him! Here is a truth: EVERYONE has perceptions and biases and comprehensions that are less than ideal. I don’t at all like the concept that “everyone’s a little bit racist,” but I certainly will concede that everyone speaks poorly from privilege at times, from bias, from mistaken attempts at humor and relating that fall painfully flat, or edge toward disrespectful and stupid. We need to be as gracious to him as we would want others to be to ourselves. Seriously.

{ding-dong, the bells are gonna chime…}



Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.

If this be error and upon me proved,

I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Mazel tov and joy to my dear Secret Agent Man, Steven Chudney & Ralph the Awesome.

{scotland calling}

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An unemployed prism; Lynedoch Crescent, Glasgow

And a lovely gray mornin’ to ya…

It’s the last rain of summer, since we can’t quite yet call it the official First Rain of autumn, the equinox not being for another handful of days yet. The brief rain has made the earth smell so sweet… and a gray, rainy morning reminded me to flip on the computer and check out the polls, since today’s Decision Day in my old stomping grounds, Glasgow, Scotland.

Except, of course, as of yet, there’s nothing to report.

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A pilot kips under a wing to stay out of the wet. Talinn, Estonia.

Half a world away, the BBC’s charter is tying them to rules that they cannot break. The election cycle is so different there. By their own charter, they’ve got to give equal time to all major strands of argument. By their charter, there will be no coverage of any of the issues relating to the referendum on polling day, from 6am until polls close at 10pm on TV, radio or bbc.co.uk. By their own charter, they’re not allowed to try and sway the vote.

No all-day-long, breathless as-it-happens (or, more likely, “as we assume and/or made it up”) approximations of poll results. No talking heads, rehashing how a politician looked, walked, what he said last week, what she did yesterday. All that’s going to go on today is reporting on how the votes are tallied and counted, what the weather is like at the polling stations, and other incontrovertible facts.

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If a raindrop falls in the forest… Charing Cross, Glasgow

Dear BBC,

Could you, however this goes today, adopt our news agencies? Just for maybe six months or so… long enough to run them through a little News Bootcamp… so that they can learn how to do things. We’ve got an election year coming, and gee, could we use your example…

Good luck, Scotland.

{we need diverse books, because…}

A la Carte
We need diverse books, because…

…too often, our idea of attractiveness tends to be a straight, pale line: Eurocentric, able-bodied, waif-bodied, gendernormative, conformist. Diverse books remind us that our stories are varicolored, many shaped, multi-shaded and arc in bright leaps along a non-conformist spectrum. Beauty – Adventure – and best of all, Love – is where you find it. ♥

So, diversity. Suddenly everybody’s talking about it. What’s it for? Why do we need diverse books? That, friends, is the question the crew at #WeNeedDiverseBooks wants YOU to answer.

Make Noise: TODAY at 1pm (EST), there will be a public call for action that will spread over 3 days. We’re starting with a visual social media campaign using the hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks. We want people to tweet, Tumblr, Instagram, Facebook, blog, and post anywhere they can to help make the hashtag go viral.

For the visual part of the campaign:

♦ Take a photo holding a sign that says “We need diverse books because ___________________________.” Fill in the blank with an important, poignant, funny, and/or personal reason why this campaign is important to you.

♦ The photo – family friendly, of course – can be of you, your buds, your stuffed animals, your Barbies, your local library or fave bookstore – and should say clearly WHY you support diversity in kids’ lit. Even a photo of the sign without you will work.

♦ Make Art: There will be a Tumblr at We Need Diverse Books Dot Tumblr Dot Com that will host all of the photos and messages for the campaign. Please submit your visual component by May 1st to [email protected] with the subject line “photo” or submit it right on the Tumblr page here and it will be posted throughout the first day.

♦ Starting at 1:00PM (EST) the Tumblr will start posting and it will be our job to reblog, tweet, Facebook, or share wherever we think will help get the word out. (Have you checked it yet? Some good discussion is already going.)

♦ From 1pm EST to 3pm EST, there will be a nonstop hashtag party to spread the word. It is hoped that we’ll get enough people to participate to make the hashtag trend and grab the notice of more media outlets. This could be big!

♦ The Tumblr will continue to be active throughout the length of the campaign, and for however long the discussion keeps going, so all are welcome to keep emailing or sending in submissions even after May 1st.

On May 2nd, the second part of the campaign will roll out with a Twitter chat scheduled for 2pm (EST) using the same hashtag. Please use #WeNeedDiverseBooks at 2pm on May 2nd and share your thoughts on the issues with diversity in literature and why diversity matters to you.

On May 3rd, 2pm (EST), the third portion of the campaign will begin. There will be a Diversify Your Shelves initiative to encourage people to put their money where their mouth is and buy diverse books and take photos of them. Diversify Your Shelves is all about actively seeking out diverse literature in bookstores and libraries, and there will be some fantastic giveaways for people who participate in the campaign! More details to come!

Everybody’s talking about diversity… but is there anything we can really do about it? Let’s find out. Make some noise – so that media outlets will pick it up as a news item. Raise your voice – so that the organizers of BEA and every big conference and festival out there gets the message that diversity is important – and why. We hope you will help spread the word by being a part of this movement.

So, that brings us back to the question…

Why do you need diverse books?

{north american discworld con, ’13: girls doing science}

A geologist and a physicist walk into a panel…

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Kathryn Hoppe, geologist, and Catherine Asaro, physicist, explain how The Fifth Elephant might have slipped. Discworld Convention 2013

One of my favorite things about the Discworld Con – besides all the people-watching, and some truly inventive Maskerade costuming – was that the panels were balanced well between men and women. The Mad Science of Discworld was all done by men (Anatoly Belilovsky, Pat Harkin, Bill Mayhew, Jon Singer), and there was a lot of silliness and bwahahahaha sort of mad-sciencey stuff, but The Science of the Discworld was dominated by women (and Jon Singer, who sat and contemplated his good fortune in being next to such brilliance). Real science, real women.

Equal opportunity brilliance. Cool.

{sing out loud: the girls of summer}

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“In summer, the song sings itself.” ~ William Carlos Williams

A secret cupped like a gorgeous blossom in small, grubby hands: the first day of summer. Anything can still happen, and there is wonder and beauty around every corner, and every day is at least a week long. At least, that’s what summer seemed like, all the days of childhood. Now, it’s more people frowning about if what they’re wearing will be a wrinkled, sweaty mess by five o’clock, and if they can get away another day without shaving. Never mind. I’m here to reconnect with wonder, and do a little happy dance that I’ve been named a Summer Girl by the fabulous Girls of Summer Book Club.

The Girls of Summer are the girls of awesome. Co-founder Gigi Amateau (CLAIMING GEORGIA TATE; COME AUGUST, COME FREEDOM) is a children’s author in her own right, and as such, this is doubly wonderful that she gives back to her community in this way. Each year, she and her friend and fellow author, Meg Medina (TIA ISA WANTS A CAR; YAQUI DELGADO WANTS TO KICK YOUR ASS) pull together a list of just eighteen books – definitely difficult! – as their Summer Girls reading list. The list covers picture book to young adult fiction that are fab for summer reading and celebrate and develop that awesomeness that makes a summer girl strong. Each year, Gigi and Meg hold a live launch in Library Park (a name that just begs you to get on the lawn with a book!) – behind the Richmond Public Library (or inside, in case of rain) where readers meet Virginia authors in person, take part in book giveaways, helped along by bbgb books, and indulge in cool, sweet treats. As PR icing on the cake, Richmond Family Magazine and the Richmond Times-Dispatch covers the events and the books in their literary section. These Summer Women are, together with their community of book people, making Richmond, Virginia an awesomely more literary place.

And this, their third summer together, they picked one of my books!

I’m in such excellent company as Ian Falconer, Sharon G. Flake, Kekla Magoon, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Atinuke, Anita Silvey, and more. Every Friday, there’s an author Q&A with one of the eighteen selected authors. I had a great time being involved – this was such a treat for me. I wish I could have been at the reading the other night – and had some of that ice cream.

Virgina Summer Girls

Click to enlarge; photo courtesy G. Amateau

Thanks, Girls of Summer. Thank you, Gigi and Meg. Thank you, Richmond. I’m honored.

Today is still a glowing secret, cupped in your two hands – the longest day of light. What is it, that you plan to do with this one, wild precious life?

Celebrate it.

{national history day project: go, C, J, and the Singapore American School!}

I’ve been consulting since last October with two students from the Singapore American School on their National History Day project. First, they politely approached me with a request for an interview, then they loaded on the questions, and finally they showed me their nearly completed presentation. Here, I’ll share it with you:

National History Day is a highly regarded academic study for students 6-12th grade. It gives the half a million participants a chance to research history deeply, reading it from new angles, and with a commitment to thinking critically and digging out all the details that they can. Each year the NHD team comes up with a broad theme to help guide the focused studies. This year’s theme is Revolution, Reaction, Reform in History. I very much think my guys from Singapore American School are getting it — the history of African American women in the military is all about revolution – out of the kitchens and back rooms and into the world – reaction – some men didn’t trust it and didn’t like it, but America needed everyone – and reform – the president, at the close of the war, deciding that enough was enough with a segregated military.

They’re through the regionals, and their project is going forward to the nationals, to be reviewed by actual historians and college professors! C & J from Singapore American School, I wish you the very, very best as you learn and represent your school! Woot! Go, history!

{Mom, remember that one thing about Mesopotamia?}

My poor mother.

Not only did I regale her, when I was five and six, with endless stories, when I was a high school sophomore and studying world history, I used to read her from my textbook. Well, heck, I know now it was probably kind of boring, but at fifteen, the stuff was exciting to me. My mother was valedictorian of her high school, however (and Homecoming Queen. And then beget me. Who is neither Homecoming nor valedictorian material. What is up with that?), and had already taken those classes. A long time ago. And sort of just blinked at me and let her mind wander whilst I regaled her excitedly with the mysteries of cuneiform and ancient empires.

I doubt Mom could let her mind wander during the Crash Courses, though. Put together by John Green – and his high school history teacher, natch – these funny, bizarre and informative brush-up courses are so much fun, and I would have probably been a history major if I’d run across them in high school.

I have way too much love for this project. I haven’t yet delved into brother Hank’s courses on Biology, but World History is supposed to be a forty-part series, and we’re already on part 3 – Catch up, next Thursday there’s a new one!