Friday, January 27, 2017

Interview Session with Angie Thomas, author of The Hate U Give

In August of 2015, I met Angie when she had just signed with her agent. She was excited, hopeful, but also nervous. She didn't know how a book influenced by Black Lives Matter would work for a YA story. Over a year later, The Hate U Give is going to be a movie (starring Amandla Stenberg as Starr), and Angie (and T.H.U.G.) are getting ready to take the world by storm. Angie was kind enough to answer some questions before embarking on her tour! Here is a review of The Hate U Give.

Where are you from? Tell me about the journey that led you to where you are now.

I was born, raised, and still reside in Jackson, Mississippi. I’ve told stories for as long as I can remember—I used to write Mickey Mouse fanfiction when I was six. But I never thought that I could be an author until I was in college, studying Creative Writing. I actually wrote the short story that became The Hate U Give while I was in my senior year. It took me a few years after college though to decide to make it a novel. Even after I wrote it, I was afraid that the topic may not be appropriate for YA. So when a literary agency held a question and answer session on Twitter, I asked if the topic was appropriate. An agent not only responded and said yes, he asked to see my manuscript. A few months later, I signed with him, and a few months after that we were in a 13-publishing house auction.

When did you know you needed to write this book?

Like I said, I first wrote it as a short story during my senior year of college, back in 2010/2011 after the shooting of Oscar Grant in Oakland, California. Like my main character, Starr, I was living in two different worlds—my neighborhood that most people called “the hood” and my upper class, mostly-white college. By being in these two different worlds, I heard two very different takes on the case. At my school, he was seen as a thug who deserved what he got, but in my community he was one our own. My anger, fear, and frustration led me to write the story. I put it aside after graduation, but as more of these cases continued to happen, I found myself angry, afraid, and frustrated again. So I did the only thing I knew how to do – I wrote.

Black Lives Matter is…

An organization and a movement. I don’t think a lot of people realize there’s a difference between the two. (And for the record, I’m not affiliated with the organization). It’s also a statement. It is not saying that only black lives matter or that black lives matter more. All lives should matter, indeed, but we have a systemic problem in this country in which black lives don’t matter enough. Black lives matter, too.

Tell us a little bit about Starr. Why did you use her voice to tell the story? She starts out so unsure of herself, and it was amazing watching her grow and come into her own.

I know plenty of Starrs in my neighborhood; I was a bit of a Starr myself growing up. She’s in two different worlds where she has to be two different people, and she’s still trying to figure out which one is truly her. I think a lot of people can relate to that. Also, there is this stereotype that black women, especially young black women, are loud and harsh, and I wanted to crush that stereotype with this character.

There is a moment where Starr is in the car with Chris, and she says to him, “I don’t need you to agree...Just try to understand how I feel. Please?” And I felt like this was a powerful line that white people need to hear from black people.

That’s one of my favorite lines, actually J. I think if more people understood why black people are so upset when another unarmed black person is killed, it would help bring about change. These cases always become political, but for so many of us they are personal. They need to become personal for all of us.

Another moment that I felt was really powerful is between Ms. Ofrah (Starr’s attorney) and Starr.
“Who said talking isn’t doing something? [Ms. Ofrah] says. “It’s more productive than silence. Remember what I told you about your voice?’
‘You said it’s my biggest weapon.’
‘And I mean that.’”

That’s another one of my favorites J (Is it ok for an author to like something they wrote? Haha.) I hope that more people realize just how powerful their voices are, especially in our current political climate. Fighting is not always about violence; sometimes it’s about speaking out. Our voices can change things.

This story is fiction, and yet, it is a real look into casual racism, blatant racism, and both sides of the police equation (Starr’s uncle is also a policeman)—and this is just the tip of the iceberg. In many ways, Starr’s story is not fiction. It is the story of every black person who has been a witness to injustice, time and time again.
What is your hope for The Hate U Give?

My ultimate hope is that it will help people realize that empathy is stronger than sympathy.

Author Angie Thomas
photo by Anissa Hidouk

Thanks for stopping by, Angie!

Mark your calendars for February 28th and pre-order a signed (and personalized!) copy of The Hate U Give from Lemuria Books.

Friday, January 20, 2017

A Crack in the Sea by H.M. Bouwman

Perhaps with the New Year you have resolved to read more books. A great book to start with would be H. M. Bouwman’s new novel, A Crack in the Sea. Told in eight parts, Bouwman blends fantasy and true-historical events to create a shimmering story that revolves around siblings. There are three pairs of siblings: Kinchen and Pip, Venus and Swimmer, and Sang and Thanh. Kinchen and Pip live in the second world, the world where Pip has the gift of speaking to fish underwater. When he is kidnapped by the Raft King, his older sister Kinchen, along with Caesar, a girl who can walk along the ocean’s floor, must find a way to get to Raftworld, a whole village built atop floating rafts in the middle of the ocean. Sang and Thanh are orphans trying to escape war-torn Vietnam in 1978, in a small boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. And Venus and Swimmer are twins who have the gift of walking on the ocean floor without having to take a breath. Their story takes place 200 years earlier on a slave ship sailing west from Africa.

Bouwman does a magical job of combining all three of these storylines with a crack in the sea: a portal that opens from the first world, the world of slavery and of war, into the second world, where it is not unusual for children to have magical water gifts. Illustrated with beautiful ink drawings by Japanese artist Yuko Shimizu, A Crack in the Sea is lyrical and spell-binding: the perfect first book to read in 2017. 

This review originally appeared in The Clarion Ledger.

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Unexpected Love Story of Alfred Fiddleduckling by Timothy Basil Ering

This is a love story about a duck that falls in love with music. The Unexpected Love Story of Alfred Fiddleduckling begins on a sunny day on a boat out at sea. Captain Alfred is sailing home with new ducks for his farm and a gift for his wife: a duck egg that is very close to hatching, and the captain keeps it safe in a fiddle case. But when a storm stirs up the high seas, the waves wash everything away except the egg. Out of this egg, a little duck is born in a violin case. But in the fog, Alfred Fiddleduckling can’t see anyone or anything! But he sees something floating. Curious, he quacks at it. “The object did not quack back.” So he swims up to it and “embraced the object with all of his heart.” Of course, Alfred Fiddleduckling does not know that he is hugging his namesake, the fiddle, but then, something unexpected happened.

Music. Alfred found out that he could create beautiful sounds just by moving the strings on the object! And he loved the sound so much that he kept playing the fiddle.

And when the captain’s wife hears the music out in the distance, it gives her hope. And out of the bog floats Alfred, playing the fiddle! And the sound of his music also leads the captain--and the other ducks--safely home.

Timothy Basil Ering is the illustrator of the Newbery Award Winning book, The Tale of Desperaux by Kate DiCamillo. Ering’s illustrations are painterly and the story is told in sweeping brushstrokes that convey the essence of music. Perhaps, unexpectedly, readers will fall in love with The Unexpected Love Story of Alfred Fiddleduckling just as a little duck named Alfred Fiddleduckling fell in love with music.

Friday, January 6, 2017

A Greyhound, a Groundhog

Friendship comes in all shapes and sizes. Emily Jenkins’ new picture book, A Greyhound, a Groundhog, is a tongue twister about two unlikely friends: a greyhound and a groundhog.
As you read it aloud, the speed of the words (and the illustrations) increases until the two friends (and your tongue) are all topsy-turvy.

“A groundhog, a greyhound,
a round little

A greyhound, a groundhog,
a brown little

And so it continues, around and around, the greyhound chases his tail, then he chases the groundhog, until they collapse on a heap on the ground, happy as can be.

Chris Appelhans (illustrator of Sparky) drew the beautiful illustrations in this book. His illustrations have a lot of energy and movement, and they complement the text perfectly. It is almost as if the movement of the greyhound and groundhog occurs as the story is being read aloud.

This book will become a staple in your child’s library, and you will be asked to read it again and again (probably at faster and faster speeds) until you can no longer say the words in the correct order. But that is part of the fun! Start 2017 with an exciting read-aloud that will have you and your child learning a new tongue twister about new friends.