The Beast Player, by Japan’s Nahoko Uehashi (translated from the Japanese by Cathy Hirano; Henry Holt & Co.) and Maresi Red Mantle, by Finland’s Maria Turtschaninoff (translated from the Swedish by A. A. Prime; Pushkin Press/Abrams Books) are co-winners of the 2020 GLLI Translated YA Book Prize.
The winning books were selected from a field of titles translated from 13 languages and representing 19 countries, from Iceland to India. Works published within three years of the submission deadline were considered.
The prize is was announced on International Children’s Book Day, which falls on April 2, the birthday of Hans Christian Andersen. Fewer young adult (YA) books are translated into English than any other category of children’s literature, and the prize aims to bring attention to gems of world literature for teens.
“The worldwide spread of the Covid-19 pandemic shows just how interconnected we have become,” said GLLI Director Rachel Hildebrandt Reynolds, “There couldn’t be a better time for teens to develop a global perspective on issues of concern to them, and reading is a great way to do that, especially when everyone is spending so much time indoors right now.”
The committee also selected two honor books:
Almost Autumnby Marianne Kaurin, translated from the Norwegian by Rosie Hedger (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic) – Norway
Luisa: Now and Thenby Carole Maurel, translated from the French by Nanette McGuinness (Life Drawn) – France
Members of the prize committee include Annette Y. Goldsmith, chair and international youth literature specialist; Abigail Hsu, Morristown & Morris Township Library; David Jacobson, author and translator; Lynn E. Palermo, Susquehanna University; Kim Rostan, Wofford College; Elaine Tai, Burlingame Public Library; and Bobbie Xuereb, MiraCosta College. They were assisted by GLLI Director Rachel Hildebrandt Reynolds.
A relatively new award, and I’m hoping it will spark energy and interest in translations including those from greatly underrepresented regions of the world.
Whenever I need to retreat from the world’s bleaker narratives, I find it helps me to think of birds. Sometimes they’re metaphorical birds, as in Mary Oliver’s White-Eyes:
In winter all the singing is in the tops of the trees where the wind-bird
with its white eyes shoves and pushes among the branches.
Or a range of birds of all kinds through several centuries, as in The Poetry of Birds, edited by Simon Armitage and Tim Dee.
Or a photograph of vultures in India, seen here nesting on an ancient monument in Orchcha, Madhya Pradesh. Vultures are still in heartstopping danger despite grand announcements of recovery plans.
Then there’s the annual miracle of bird migration. It’s easy to become mesmerized by the flowing patterns of flight on the remarkable animated map from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, created from millions of observations from the eBird citizen science database, and documenting the migratory movements of 118 different species.
Or this account of the massive scale and the fragile balance of the Amur falcon migration that goes in an east-west as well as a north-south direction, 2,400 miles from eastern Asia to wintering grounds in southern Africa.
“All the singing voices,” Mary Oliver says. And all the soaring wings. I try to carry them in me, to the best of my ability.
Once in a great while, I come across a middle grade novel that moves and shimmers in time to the beating heart of its young protagonist, while at the same time picking me up and planting me squarely in a place I’ve never been. That’s what My Fate According to the Butterfly, Gail Villanueva‘s beautiful debut novel set in Metro Manila, accomplishes.
This tender, funny middle grade novel, set in the Philippines, is narrated in the first person by young Sabrina “Sab” Dulce. Sab’s parents are separated, and she misses her father. The day her ordinary life changes is the day she sees a giant black butterfly alight on her very own heart-shaped silver locket on its braided metal chain.
Gail D. Villanueva is a Filipino author born and based in the Philippines. She’s also a web designer, an entrepreneur, and a graphic artist. She loves pineapple pizza, seafood, and chocolate, but not in a single dish together (eww). Gail and her husband live in the outskirts of Manila with their dogs, ducks, turtles, cats, and one friendly but lonesome chicken. Her debut novel My Fate According to the Butterfly was named a Best Book of the Year by Kirkus Reviews and was selected for the 2020 Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People by the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) and the Children’s Book Council (CBC).
I asked Gail if she’d answer some of the questions her novel raised for me.
[Uma] How did you pull together this perfect confluence of butterflies, looming death, and family relationships?
[Gail] I’ve always believed that we adults tend to underestimate kids. They understand certain issues more than we think they do—and sometimes even understand issues better than we do. While I get the need to “protect” them, I believe easing kids into these difficult subjects in an age-appropriate manner will equip them with knowledge when they encounter these later in life. Because these issues aren’t just issues. They’re realities that people have to live with, not just here in the Philippines but everywhere in the world.
I hope that with my book, kids will find both a mirror and a window that can introduce them to these subjects that they’ll later face one way or another. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t expect it’ll have an impact on every kid who reads it. But maybe—just maybe—it’ll give them something to think about and/or empathize with.
[Uma] There’s so much in this book that made me smile. Ate Nadine’s postcolonial take on history and life, the separated parents, the dad in a same-sex relationship. None of these is a plot point, and yet together they make for a complex, lovingly drawn portrait of a family and the community they live in. Can you talk about those craft choices and how you came to make them?
[Gail] I’m so glad you mentioned this! Yes, you’re right—every character’s backstory is a microcosm of different realities many Filipinos face. I figured that there is no better way to represent these realities but to show them through human experience. Not just Sab’s experience, but the experience of everyone around her as well.
You see, Butterfly isn’t the first book I wrote. I have an unpublished middle grade novel in the drawer, waiting for the day I’ll be ready to revisit it. Before I even wrote that one, I had a chat with a friend who studied psychology. Through her, I learned that it’s not enough to rely on personality types to create a character. I also needed to consider their past experiences, present circumstances, and dreams for the future, in order to come up with a believable cast of characters. I used this knowledge while brainstorming primary, secondary, and even peripheral characters for Butterfly.
Since socio-political issues are human experiences, I was able to weave them into the characters’ backgrounds, which I think helped in making everyone just be without the need to become a plot point in the story.
[Uma] Every novel teaches a writer something. What did writing this book teach you?
[Gail] I did a lot of research for My Fate According to the Butterfly—from reading journals, articles, blog posts, etc. to chatting with and interviewing people and experts with different perspectives about the Philippine drug war. I definitely learned a lot about the political and social aspects of the issue. It also gave me a deeper understanding of addiction and its effects on families, as well as the importance of rehabilitation.
In terms of writing as a craft, writing Butterfly helped me come to a realization that unlearning ableist language is an ongoing process. I tried my best to make sure that I didn’t perpetuate ableism by using “lame,” “crazy,” or “dumb” in a negative sense, but I still slipped one time and I was so ashamed. Thankfully, my editor and the production team caught the ableist word. It just goes to show that I still have a lot to learn.
[Uma] Gail Villanueva, thank you for these heartfelt, honest replies! I wish you butterfly gardens–and I absolutely intend to try cheese ice-cream the very next chance I get! Here’s hoping our paths cross in real time someday.
My virtual writer friend of over 20 years, Audrey Couloumbis, read my post on knitting and revision and wrote to me about a time when she sold sweater designs to magazines. I asked if I could use part of her email in this blog post. Because it’s Audrey, (author of Getting Near to Baby, dramatized since its original publication, and lots of other titles) this reflection on crochet and writing and life reads like prose poetry.
came up with a sweater that could be done in a mohair with a huge hook. half hour sweater. took it to woman’s day and the editor there, lovely motherly woman whose name escapes me at the moment wanted four in different colors, all with a different yarn than i had used.
she said how much? i figured two hours work, plus the time on the sample piece that couldn’t be sold to another magazine and i said 350. i figured i did well.
when i got home she called and said she wanted to offer these designs as kits and since i had a shop (on my front porch) could i do the kits. i could and we settled on using my mother-in-law’s nyc address as the order point.
i had a mental picture of maybe two or three months of possibly 30 orders a week.
it was fall going into winter when the magazine came out and the orders were many more than expected and my mother in law enlisted her sister, aunt adrienne to do thanksgiving that year. i came in from the country with apple and pumpkin pies 2 kids and a dog to find mama nicky sitting at her dining table awash in paper and a laundry basket system (u.s, canada, and i think military bases, 4 or 5 baskets) for the order forms.
she looked fairly stunned but also deliriously happy. she said she was giving thanks for every one. i asked how many hours did this take her and gave thanks for her, bcs i never could have opened that many envelopes in a day and set up a system to keep track.
we spent three day weekends stuffing envelopes and slapping on the labels, then trips to ups with the station wagon crammed with envelopes. this went on till spring, slowed to about 100 orders a month in warmer months (mohair) and picked up again the next winter.
we got orders for about six years. by the end it was a trickle of one or two a month. i think we sold abt 2500 of those sweaters at 28ish dollars. i know this isn’t the kind of writer’s progress you were looking for but the thing that got me thinking,
that editor didn’t pay me 350 for the sweaters as a whole she paid me 350 for each 1/2 hour sweater. and when i asked her about it, she said when she pays her doctor she isn’t paying all that money for the ten minutes she spent with him, she paid for his years of learning to have the answers to her questions.
that too is what writers are paid for–a long self-imposed internship.
Hunkering down in the era of Covid-19, a self-imposed internship, its rigors offset by yarns real or imaginary, seems like a desirable option. A chance to lose oneself in texture, form, and style.
Writing With a Broken Tusk began in 2006 as a blog about overlapping geographies, personal and real-world, and writing books for children. The blog name refers to the mythical pact made between the poet Vyaasa and the Hindu elephant headed god Ganesha who was his scribe during the composition of the Mahabharata.
The first 2020 issue of Bookbird has a wonderful article on reading difficult books to very young children. It’s about a two-day project at each of three preschool centers where educators worked with preschoolers through Oliver Jeffers’s picturebook The Heart and the Bottle (2010). From its large, awkward size to the ambiguities of its storyline, the book offers many ways to deepen connections between words and pictures on a page and the lived experiences of young children. But reading it is tough.
The article opens with a Kafka passage, ending this way:
A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.
Starting with the “big sadnesses” of children living in the reality of the world, the article addresses adult reluctance to deal with hard feelings. Teachers confess to worrying about not being able to manage their emotions in front of the children.
The term “sitting with” is used consistently, and it’s a wonderful way to think about it. One can “sit with” and acknowledge hard feelings without needing to solve a problem or provide a solution. The world isn’t instantly fixable, or even fixable at all, so why not simply allow the feelings to be, and thereby validate them?
This account of a “somewhat successful, and somewhat failed, project” is moving because it combines individual responses to the experience from adults and children without privileging one over the other. The writers conclude:
Because we are too little habituated to sitting with discomfort and to tolerating sad feelings as we read books aloud, teaching this book remains a brave and challenging act.
Provoking a pause, permitting us to “sit with…” our feelings. Isn’t this practically necessary to being human?
The SAADA 2020 calendar began January with a striking image. It was taken by photographer Augustus Sherman in 1911, part of a series depicting new Ellis Island arrivals. We don’t know much at all about the boy in the picture. Titled “Hindoo boy”, the subject is identified in Peter Mesenhöller’s “Augustus F. Sherman: Ellis Island Portraits 1905-1920” (c1905) p.94 from another print that bears a caption: Thumbu Sammy, aged 17, Hindoo ex SS ‘Adriatic’, April 14, 1911.
Who was this boy, I wonder? He’s well dressed. Look at the gold-trimmed cap, the diamond earring, and the shawl wrapped about his shoulders. What would have sent a 17-year-old around the world on the SS Adriatic in 1911? Here was what happened in 1911 in his native India:
A grand Durbar, a celebration of Empire, attended by King George V and Queen Mary
I wonder, was it plague that drove the boy? Or was he part of a resistance to British rule so he had to leave? Or was his wealthy family interested in sending him to an American university? And what became of him? Where did he go from Ellis Island in 1911? Where did he live and die? Is there anyone today who counts him among their ancestors?
So many unknowns. And a photographer who caught a face, a posture, and those remarkable details of clothing and jewelry and hair.
I realize this is not going to be everyone’s skein of yarn, but knitting helps me revise. I learned it as a jumpy child, reactivated my skills at VCFA–thank you, Rita Williams-Garcia!–and have made it a part of my writing practice for over a decade.
The objects I generate–hats, socks, scarves, shawls, a blanket, and the occasional attempt at a sweater–are not the point. I’m aiming to keep my hands busy so I can still my restless mind and get it to concentrate on the project at hand. So I can read on screen and hard copy without being tempted to rush in and start moving words around when what I need to do is dive into a deep revision. Knitting has seen me through revisions on three novels, a chapter book, and countless picture books.
Knitters create holes with string using sticks and a clickety-clickety noise.
We do, we do. But wait. The writer says:
Knitting is spooky. It’s obviously impossible to do, and yet you see people doing it all the time. These people clearly are a superior life-form. If you doubt this, spend a day with a dozen of your friends. At the end of the evening, have a look around: Eleven of you will have cookie crumbs in your laps, and the knitter will have an entire sweater.
Now, much as I’d like to think of myself as a superior life form, that would not be me. I am not that kind of knitter. When I go into my local yarn store and find myself immersed in knitting conversations, with the names of yarns flying about, I have to summon up my courage so I can pretend I belong there. It’s a lovely store, no question. Collectively, the staff possesses an absolutely frightening expertise on needle sizes and yarn weight and stitch-markers. They can squint at a rack and tell me just how much of that nice brick-red yarn I might need for the sweater I am working up the nerve to try out. They can point me to Ravelry patterns almost before I’ve finished asking my question. All of this serves to put me properly in my place–I leave clutching my yarn, in a state of mind that is equal parts gratitude and humility.
Which, come to think of it, is much the way I begin every new writing project. Aware of how much I have yet to learn. Grateful to see what the next book will teach me. But knowing that if I show up over and over, I will make it through the journey.
Many writers experience self-doubt. We may laugh about imposter syndrome but it afflicts many of us to varying degrees. It helps me when I click-clack a couple of needles and create holes between loops of yarn. If I do that in between scrolling through my manuscript on a screen or perusing a paper copy of a troublesome chapter, I’m better able to fix the holes in the work I’m trying to revise. Making an entire sweater, I tell myself, is not my art form. It’s just something I do, in my own imperfect way, while working on knitting the pieces of a story together.
Last fall, HarperCollins announced the launch of Heartdrum, a new Native-focused imprint led by award-winning and New York Times bestselling author Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee Creek), and Rosemary Brosnan, Vice President, Editorial Director, HarperCollins Children’s Books.
More from the Harper web site:
Launching in Winter 2021, Heartdrum will offer a wide range of innovative, unexpected, and heartfelt stories by Native creators, informed and inspired by lived experience, with an emphasis on the present and future of Indian Country and on the strength of young Native heroes.
Congratulations, Cyn! I can’t think of anyone better to do this magnificent work of expanding the richness of Native voices in the children’s and YA universe.