Rafael Rosales is Called Up

Rooting for Rafael Rosales is out in the world! I have been collecting some of the best review slugs on the Rafael Rosales page. I wrote a little bit about how this book came together for the publisher’s blog. And I had a lovely launch party at The Red Balloon bookshop. We distributed seed packets of bee-friendly flowers, assembled by Byron. We had cake. Friends old and new showed up.

My favorite person was a girl who likes gardening and was excited to read a book where gardening figures in…I think she’s basically Real Life Maya. Photo is by her mom, posted with permission, but name withheld at her request.

And here’s a photo with a bee and a fox both appropriately photo-bombing me!

 

Thanks to the Red Balloon and everyone who came out!

 

Author Insight with Kurtis Scaletta

I posted some thoughts about Rooting for Rafael Rosales on the Albert Whitman blog here.

Albert Whitman Blog

Rooting for Rafael Rosales by Kurtis Scaletta is the story of two very different protagonists. Rafael has dreams. Every chance he gets he plays in the street games trying to build his skills, get noticed by scouts, and—someday—play Major League Baseball. Maya has worries. The bees are dying all over the world, and the company her father works for is responsible, making products that harm the environment. Follow Rafael and Maya in a story that shifts back and forth in time and place, from Rafael’s neighborhood in the Dominican Republic to present-day Minnesota, where Maya and her sister are following Rafael’s first year in the minor leagues. In their own ways, Maya and Rafael search for hope, face difficult choices, and learn a secret—the same secret—that forever changes how they see the world.

We were lucky enough to hear from Kurtis about his experience creating this story:

When a new…

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Aprille With His Shoures Soote

It was with some chagrin I realized a quarter of the year had gone by without a blog post, and me with a book coming out in two weeks. Sorry, I have been pretty busy… especially with my kid. I don’t know how anybody does anything when they have a six year old (especially my six year old). I have some catching up to do.

First, you should know that I will launch Rooting for Rafael Rosales like a baseball over the outfield wall on Tuesday, April 25 at 6:30 p,m. As with all my novels, the launch party will be held at the wonderful Red Balloon bookshop in St. Paul. We will have fun and cake.

It is my only scheduled event so far for this book, though I have a couple of other fun things in the offing.

Second, the highlight of my winter was that Kelly Barnhill, a beautiful writer and lovely person, was given the top honor in children’s literature.

Third, I have been reading The Topps League Series to Byron and he’s loving it, which makes me very happy. I wrote these books on a tight schedule and it is kind of a blur now…but I am really enjoying reading them now, and am proud of what I did, even if I barely remember doing it.

Fourth, I aim to keep a low political profile on this blog, but at times politics are not really about petty partisan things, but tests of our very humanity.  Jenny Holzer said that if you are apolitical, your personal life had better be impeccable. Mine is peccable. So here I go.

Like a lot of people I’ve been deeply concerned by the current administration, and especially the threats to public education and to the arts and humanities, to the environment, and to national parks. It is a battle with many fronts and it feels like an all-out assault on reason and compassion.

I guess I’m speaking to the random visitor, the parent of a child who liked my books who may have dismissed the protesters as sore losers, extremists, or snowflakes (to use a favorite pejorative of Twitter). This is a real crisis; the future of my child and yours hangs in the balance. Please take another look and think about the long-range consequences of what is happening in Washington.

I didn’t expect to say all that when I started this blog entry, but it is much on my mind. Spring is a time of hope and renewal. I hope that the sweet showers of this April can end the drought and heal the parched ground. Even the Twins have been playing well. At least outside of Detroit.

Fifth and finally, a very happy birthday to Beverly Cleary! I spent much of last year celebrating her 100th birthday, and here she is with yet another candle on her cake.

The Little Prince

littleprinceOver the last few nights I read classic book The Little Prince to Byron. I had offered to read it numerous times and he always protested, but I wore him down. He listened patiently and quietly. He commented on the pictures but rarely the text. However, last night he didn’t want me to stop reading and we saw it through the end. When asked later how he liked it, he said “It was actually pretty good. I didn’t think it would be that good.” But how much the book’s profound truths affected him, I don’t know.

Maybe that’s a strange thing to say of a book that is explicitly about what children and understand and adults do not: the difference between a hat and a snake digesting an elephant, for instance. And the satire on various kinds of grown-up, like the businessman and the geographer, gets at how we self-important adults must seem to children. Yet The Little Prince is also a story about possessive love, and about loss, and about the devastating sadness of growing up. These are aspects that children must not grasp.

97ff5cd3bd35dcfdd6d49f39e0ec4c31One idea I have been turning over in my head for two days, and which eluded me as a child, is that The Little Prince is also about the very act of creating art for children. Just after meeting the narrator, the little prince orders him to draw a sheep. The narrator complies, though several in a row are rejected. And even when the prince finally accepts one, he voices concern that the sheep will eat his flower: an anthropomorphized being on his home planet whom he loves and cares for absolutely. So the narrator draws a muzzle.

c555fb43d65a5a0281c9d1f8b28983c4The narrator does not question that the sheep really exists and might do harm. Indeed, he worries at the end that he has not drawn the muzzle correctly, that the sheep will escape and eat the flower, and that the little prince will be bereft.

Over the past year I have followed the roiling debate about children’s books and the harm they might do; I have been skeptical at times at the insistence that books can do real  harm, like a blow to the head. And so it is revelatory to read this book. I marvel at how the child insists on a sheep despite the risks: children intuitively know what art they need. I marvel, too, at how the narrator accepts responsibility for the dangers his art poses, and worries later that his carelessness will lead to heartbreak and misery.

I have never had such conviction in the realness of my art, nor have I stared up at the stars and wondered if my sheep has eaten a flower. Perhaps if I had such convictions and concerns, I would have written a book as magical and timeless as The Little Prince.

 

Chanceless American Boys

I have been thinking about this tweet since I saw it a week ago.

boys

(I obscured the name and face because it is imitating a real person/celebrity who I’m sure wants nothing to do with it.)

This is a trollish tweet in a stream of invective, but revealing and seemingly autobiographical. We learn so much about this fellow from one angry tweet. We can guess at his family life and academic career. Nobody with a satisfying career or healthy relationships would brood over being “manipulated and humiliated.”

In the early 1990s there was a popular book by a very well-respected poet named Robert Bly called Iron John, that was rooted in the same anxiety; not just that women were moving into leadership roles both inside and outside the home (“managerial moms”) but that there is a lack of good fathering (whether “deadbeat dad” is simply not around or is so exhausted by life that he doesn’t know how to steer his sons into a happier manhood).

Like a lot of young men of my generation, I still felt like a boy in my mid-20s and was struggling feeling like a “grown up,” without a war or adventure to season my soft life. I didn’t have a great relationship with my dad and was never “one of the guys” in male-bonding rituals. The book echoed some of my anxieties, but I didn’t think ceremonial campouts with bonfires and fairytales would help. And it’s hard to argue that the book isn’t a branch of the same tree that bore the toxic fruit above; but in the tweet the central trope of Iron John is stripped of all poetry and reduced to its essence, like a snappish wounded animal.

The entire misogynistic enterprise of “men’s rights” both repudiates Bly’s book and validates it. This is where these fatherless, emasculate-feeling boys go if not treated: to packs of other wounded boys to contrive myths about feminism, to threaten and harass women, and to become dangerous to themselves and others. I do not think the feeling of chancelessness has anything to do with the chances given to girls, but blame is always attractive to people who feel like they are failing at life.

As a writer I am interested in this theme of boys becoming men, and the presence or absence of fathers, and the different modes of manhood that a boy might follow. It is one of those themes I discovered after having written several books and now attend to more consciously.

Iron John explores this theme through mythic archetype. I’ve also been inspired by the work of William Brozo, who seems to get inspiration from Iron John but considers multiple archetypes and connects them with novels for children and teens. Brozo led me to think more consciously of the men my literary boys are becoming, and I’ve thought about it more explicitly in my last few books, beginning with The Tanglewood Terror. 

For me, feeling more like a man came not through war or ceremony, but from becoming a parent and losing one. Taking care of others, and especially taking better care of myself. I came to understand that the rootlessness of young men comes not from feminism, but from the toxicity of masculinity, which tends to steer young men away from self-care and nurturing, and toward recklessness and the conquering of weaker things.

I dare say I have stumbled across an actual goal for writing for children that isn’t purely instinctive, I would like to reach these boys before they become this kind of man.

Locker Room Talk & Silence

Locker Room

The news broke Friday that a recording had been found from nearly ten years ago with a presidential candidate saying coarse things about women, basically admitting to sexual assault in the crudest of ways, and the journalist he was talking to (who was, absurdly, the nephew of the then sitting president) laughing and echoing the sentiments. It’s hard stuff to defend, but to the extent anyone tried to deflect it, it was dismissed as mere “guy talk,” the kind of banter you hear in locker rooms.

It’s not rare. I go to a gym, and encounter a lot of these older guys (heck, I’m practically one of them). The talk is more often veiled (or unveiled) racism than sexism, which probably has to do with my age group. But whether it is misogynistic or racist, locker rooms are apparently a “safe place” for men to be “themselves” and therefore not held accountable for anything they say.

The question is, when you’re in such a place, what is your responsibility? I rarely speak up. I listen uncomfortably, give milquetoast responses, and ease out of the situation as quickly as possible. My instincts are for “flight,” not for “fight.” I rationalize that anything I say will lead to defensive hostility rather than changing anyone’s mind. I can’t say I’m concerned about my physical safety, exactly, but I know I’ll be yelled at and called names, and that’s enough to dissuade me. Memories are triggered of middle school and high school and even college, when because of my size and frailty I wasn’t really one of the guys. I walk away with sickness in my stomach.

But is it OK to remain silent? I think without social proximity, it is unlikely to be an effective ally. At the same time, I know how weasly that sounds. As a person of privilege who is quickly taken into the confidence of other people of privilege, I have a power to speak up.

At the same time I think “calling out” strangers in this way simply sets rules of discourse: don’t talk like that. But social proximity gives someone the ability to address a friend’s inner toxicity: here’s why you shouldn’t think like that. That takes work, empathic listening, and thoughtful responses. So while there’s an importance to speaking up and even calling out, the real work is in having a conversation.

So I realize the real responsibility here is to actually get to know these guys and talk to them. I’ll try harder.

The Biggest Lie of the Election

This election has no shortage of lies and it’s not my job to dispel them, but I want to address one I think cuts to the very center of the election and the entire political enterprise. Donald Trump was accused of gaming the system to avoid taxes, and he said “that makes me smart,” a position he has since elaborated on, declaring himself a downright genius for avoiding taxes. No doubt lots of people believe him, and regard him with even more hero worship. Surely a genius who gets out of paying taxes (legally) is so super-smart on economics he’ll fix everything with genius magic, right?

Owl (Public Domain)

Wrong. Donald Trump didn’t use highly complicated tax trickery to get out of paying taxes. He simply took advantage of the system that is already built to help the rich and powerful. He played by the rules, but the rules are unfair in his favor.

Declaring himself “smart” is meant to reassure his voters that the rich and powerful deserve to be rich and powerful, and that this is a meritocracy; that those opportunities exist for everyone and the deserving smart discover them and take advantage.

Sorry, no. The loopholes he exploited aren’t available to you, only to the very rich. He didn’t cheat the system; the system is working exactly as it is supposed to and serving the people it was designed to serve.