Thursday, April 29, 2010

Shooting Kabul

There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer - Ansel Adams

Photographs, like nothing else, strike a chord with the viewer, and that's why I think organizations that teach kids photography to journal their lives, are so important. They allow children to show others what their lives truly encompass, like the kids in Calcutta portrayed in the documentary, BORN INTO BROTHELS.

Between November and December 2002 a group of young Afghan girls took to the streets of Kabul armed with cameras. Their task was to document life in Afghanistan on the streets where some 37,000 children work and beg to earn a living. The group was encouraged to use the camera as a tool through which they share their experiences of growing up in Afghanistan, to document the every day experiences of life on the streets where they themselves work. he results of the project, named Bibin (the Dari word for look), which was shown at the Spitz Gallery in London, in 2003. Their photography is truly arresting, providing us a glimpse into their lives at that time.

The warnings are painted on the walls to tell people to take care of mines.This is good as it means people can live more safely. My neighbour used to collect steel and he thought a mine was steel he could recycle, and took it. He now cannot walk - he has lost a foot and a hand. © Nabiela / Bibin / PhotoVoice

These children are making flowers to sell on the street. These kinds of decorations are traditional in Afghanistan. © Rabia / Bibin / PhotoVoice

I think someone has drawn a gun because this is the reason our country is in ruins. I took this picture in the ruins. I think a boy visiting the ruins drew this. This picture should be cleaned away and there should be a picture of a pen in its place. Instead of guns now the Afghan people should be using pens, they should be studying.' © Zakia / Bibin / PhotoVoice Shooting Kabul.

One of the project's young participants.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

What NOT to do!

A writer died and was given the option of going to heaven or hell.
She decided to check out each place first. As the writer descended into the fiery pits, she saw row upon row of writers chained to their desks in a steaming sweatshop. As they worked, they were repeatedly whipped with thorny lashes.
"Oh my," said the writer. "Let me see heaven now."
A few moments later, as she ascended into heaven, she saw rows of writers, chained to their desks in a steaming sweatshop. As they worked, they, too, were whipped with thorny lashes.
"Wait a minute," said the writer. "This is just as bad as hell!"
"Oh no, it's not," replied an unseen voice. "Here, your work gets published."
There is a great deal of information on the web regarding what to do to improve the odds of getting published -- write the best book you can, network with other writers, how to query an agent, how to behave at a writers conference when talking to editors, etc.

Then I saw Penny C. Sansevieri's excellent article in the Huffington Post called Why (Some) Authors Fail and realized that she had excellent suggestions on what NOT to do so you don't sabotage your writing career.
  • Not learning enough about the industry --  get to know the market you are in. Learn about who the publishers are, what are they publishing, is the genre your writing hot or fading?
  • Not Accepting Feedback -- Get feedback on your work. Getting other people input on your writing (critique partner, editor etc) is a crucial part to any writer's career. 
  • Not Surrounding Yourself with Enough Professionals -- you need professionals for advice, wisdom, and direction. 
  • Not Doing Their Research -- refer back to one.  
  • Not Understanding How New York Publishing Works -- Understand how the publishing industry works, what they are looking for and when.
  • Playing the Blame Game - If something goes wrong, own it ( Unless it's really not your fault) and learn from the experience and do better next time.
  • Believing in the Unbelievable -- There are no guarantees. No one can promise book sales, fame, or Oprah. Period. End of story. If someone is promising you these things, run, or if the offer seems too good to be true it likely is.
Success is not about hard work alone. It's also about making smart, savvy choices, being relentless, and believing in your work and your mission. But you also need to be objective, realistic, and humble.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Child Slavery

"No one shall be held in slavery or servitude: slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.”-United Nations: Universal Declaration of Human Rights

I came across two books that disturbed me deeply -- both deal with childhood slavery in South Asia, India and Pakistan. It's sad that in this day in age, such a things exists. There's a lot of work to be done...

The first, is BOYS WITHOUT NAMES, by Kashmira Seth. Set in contemporary Mumbai tells a harrowing story of child slavery. Indebted to ruthless moneylenders, 11-year-old Gopal’s family flees to Mumbai, where they hope to find work. On the way, Gopal’s father goes missing, and Gopal guides his mother and siblings to an uncle’s house, where they worry and wait for Baba to find them. Eager to help his family earn money, Gopal follows a local boy to what he thinks will be a day’s work at a factory. Instead, he is pulled into a sweatshop—a single room where five boys are held against their will and forced to produce decorative items with toxic materials. As Gopal dreams of escape, he builds tenuous friendships with his fellow workers. Those wary bonds form a dramatic counterpoint to the children’s daily misery, described in moving, palpable detail, and skillfully steer the story away from docu-novel territory to its hopeful conclusion.

The second book is Susan Kuklin's IQBAL MASIH AND THE CRUSADES AGAINST CHILD SLAVERY. She tells the story of Iqbal, Iqbal, a charismatic Pakistani boy sold into slavery at age four. He was freed six years later by a human rights group and became an activist speaker in Pakistan and Europe and came to the U.S. in 1994. On his return home, at age 12, he was murdered. Readers will relate to Kuklin's outrage about Iqbal and also about the suffering of bonded children everywhere and the global markets that benefit from family poverty and illiteracy. Dramatic black-and-white photos show the Iqbal speaking out in Pakistan and Boston; many pictures from several countries document small children doing forced labor, even chained to machines. A long final section describes what human rights groups and particular U.S. schools are doing to organize boycotts and protests.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Writing Good

How many publishers does it take to screw in a light bulb? Three. One to screw it in. Two to hold down the author.

This is an oldie, but hilarious...
How to Write Good
by Frank L.Visco and originally published in the June 1986 issue of Writers' digest.
  1. Avoid Alliteration. Always.
  2. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.
  3. Avoid cliches like the plague. (They’re old hat.)
  4. Employ the vernacular.
  5. Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.
  6. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are unnecessary.
  7. It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.
  8. Contractions aren’t necessary.
  9. Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.
  10. One should never generalize.
  11. Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.”
  12. Comparisons are as bad as cliches.
  13. Don’t be redundant; don’t use more words than necessary; it’s highly superfluous.
  14. Profanity sucks.
  15. Be more or less specific.
  16. Understatement is always best.
  17. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.
  18. One word sentences? Eliminate.
  19. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.
  20. The passive voice is to be avoided.
  21. Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.
  22. Even if a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.
  23. Who needs rhetorical questions?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Numbers are Up!

If you're child says they're bored, hand them a book.

Source: Parent Magazine
No doubt about it, publishing sales, along with the rest of the economy are in a slump --- that is, except for children's books. R.R. Boker reported that the number of children's books produced in the U.S. rose 8% in 2009 to 32,348 - traditional books fell by half a percentage point to 288,355 titles. We're still below 2004 when 37,976 children's titles were produced, and 2003, with 33,469 titles, was the second biggest year.But hey, third best is nothing to complain about, so keep reading.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Kids Otter Read Day

Americas most literate Cities (per 10,000 population) -- 1. Seattle, WA, 2. San Francisco, CA, 3.5 Minneapolis, MN, 3.5 Cincinnati, OH, 5. St. Louis, MO , 6. Portland, OR, 7. Pittsburgh, PA, 8. St. Paul, MN, 9. Cleveland, OH, 10. Washington, DC - Central Connecticut State University, 2007
Mark your calendars! Come celebrate the San Francisco Bay Area’s rich children’s book community with your local independent bookstore on May 1, 2010 from 1 – 3pm. 
The Northern California Children’s Bookseller’s Association (NCCBA) will hold its second annual Kids Otter Read Day Around the Bay, a celebration of the San Francisco Bay Area’s thriving children’s book community. Hosted by independent children’s booksellers, with appearances by more than 50 local children’s authors and illustrators, this is a not-to-be-missed event for readers of all ages. I will be at Books Inc., Palo Alto, looking forward to seeing you there!
More information:

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Spring Break

Gone East for Spring Break. Will be back in a week!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Darkly Delicious

“Sometimes his (Roald Dahl's) work was a little too strong for grown-ups. It was scary and messy, but children understood that this was only because lots of adults were not very nice themselves, beastly even.” --Yorkshire Post

My favorite author growing up (well one of my many favorites) was Roald Dahl. I read his books over and over again (and still do!). Two of my favorites were FANTASTIC MR. FOX and THE WITCHES (JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH is a close third). The element of his books that I adored was the dark, morbid, sometimes violent things that happened to the characters. Mr. Fox get's his tail shot off as his family faces starvation while the orphan boy in THE WITCHES is turned into a mouse and nearly stomped to death by witches.

Kids love the macabre, the horror of fearsome things -- things that happen to characters in books. And these books sell really well, beginning from the Grimm Fairy tales to Neil Gaiman's fantastically scary books like CORALINE and THE GRAVEYARD BOOK. Horror has always become integral to children’s fiction, and it seems to have intensified -- In case you hadn't noticed, there's a big streak of the darkly supernatural running through a lot of children's fiction these days. Ghosts, vampires and zombies are a recurring motif. There are alternative universes, resplendent with witches, demons, evil fairies and a growing number of fallen angels.

Such books allow children to explore the fears in a sort of safe, confined way. That’s perhaps why post apocalyptical fiction is taking off in a big way. It’s reflective of the current mood around the world -- of financial meltdowns, economic troubles, environmental disasters and social unrest. Kids are reaching for books that mirror their darker moods, and perhaps fiction can teach kids how to survive in the real world