On September 9, I went stargazing at Eden Mills Writers' Festival with fellow teacher author, Uzma Jalaluddin. Her debut novel Ayesha At Last was optioned recently to be made into a Hollywood film. It was my first time attending the Eden Mills Writers' Festival tucked away in Eden Mills in Guelph, Ontario. I had a cha
If you look really, really closely, you can see Canadian author, Esi Edugyan reading from her latest award-winning novel, Washington Black. I loved her previous award-winning book, Half-Blood Blues, which I hope will be made into a movie. I am hoping to meet this author of Ghanaian descent who is based in Victoria, BC one day and I am putting that out into the universe.
September and October are the seasons for festivals, book launches, and deadlines. September marks the start of a school year and as a teacher, I am at my busiest-- setting up a new classroom, establishing routines, registering for courses,...
I was able to get to one this week-- the launch of Kenneth Oppel's newest book, Inkling, illustrated by Sydney Smith. Like all book launches, this one was a #kidlit reunion. I took some photos with those in attendance such as the book's creators, ya author Melanie Fishbane, my mentor author Richard Scrimger, authors Teresa Toten, Caroline Pignat, Sharon Jennings, and award-winning illustrator Eric Fan who is one half of the Fan Brothers. I totally fanned out (pun intended) when I met Eric and was so honoured to learn that Eric knew who I was let alone is a fan of my work (pun unintended).
In this issue…
Greeting. I admit it. This newsletter is a little late in getting to you but I hope you are doing well and in good health. It has been a busy summer. Thank you for your supportive comments over the years. It has been a blessing to be a writer and have my words in a published format on the written page. I still balance this with the life of being a teacher. This school year, I will be in a new position teaching music and French to students in Toronto. This is quite a transition for me. Hence, I will continue this Nadia’s Notables Newsletter in the seasonal format. Best wishes.
Nadia L. Hohn
2018 ETFO Writing Award
This year, I received the 2018 Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) award for the manuscript of my upcoming book about the late Jamaican poet, Louise Bennett-Coverley better known as Miss Lou. ETFO represents 85, 000 educators in the province of Ontario. I am pleased and honoured that this work, which will be my sixth published book and seventh if you include my contribution to the T-DOT GRIOTS anthology, has already received such a positive response. As we approach what would have been Miss Lou’s 99th birthday on September 7, 2018, I also accept this award is a tribute to my work but also to Miss Lou’s dedication to the education of Jamaica’s young people. Please read here for the media release.
In July 2018, I spent an amazing and transformative three weeks in Brazil. I spent my first week travelling solo and researching in Salvador da Bahia, the capital of the Brazilian state where the highest number of Africans were brought during the Transatlantic Slave Trade. I then spent two weeks with American teachers through a program called Brazil Summer Teacher Institute through the Consortium on Latin American Studies Programs (CLASP). With this group of fourteen educators, over ten days, I toured Salvador, Rio de Janeiro, and Sao Paulo. Lastly, I spent my last week in Sao Paulo solo and thanks to Denise, Colleen, and Ben, especially my tour guides Alissar and Sayuri for organizing such an amazing experience.
Authors Booking Service: Welcome Caroline
I would like to take this opportunity to welcome Caroline as the new president of Authors Booking Service (ABS). ABS has been a one-stop shop to connect authors and illustrators to readers since 2006. I have been a member and presenter since 2017. Please check out their website and my presentation page in order to book me at your school.
SCBWI LA 2018
In August 2018, I had the pleasure of attending my very first Los Angeles conference for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). SCBWI has two annual conferences that take place in two cities— LA and New York City. Previously, I have attended the NYC SCBWI Conference in 2015 and 2016. This is an expensive event but well worth it. Picture 1, 500 pre-, self- and traditionally published writers and illustrators with the “rockstars” of the children’s literature world spending 3 to 4 days in workshops, networking, schmoozing, and being inspired. That is what this event was for me. Please check out the highlight reel here. You will see a familiar face at 10:06/10:07
Back to School: Graduate Diploma
I have been working on a young adult novel that I have been calling Number 8 for the last seven years. During this time, it has taken on a few manifestations as I work on it and I realized that the research for this novel would require a trip to Brazil. Through aggressive grant applications, I received the funding to make this possible in July 2018. I have also completed three one-on-one critiques this year for this novel and based on all of my feedback, I need some help in pulling it together. Enter: Cherie Dimaline. Cherie is the author of a Canadian best-selling 2017 novel called The Marrow Thieves, a young adult indigenous futurist/science fiction. I read the book earlier this year and it was a Canada Reads finalist in 2018. I also attended a Toronto Public Library workshop a few years ago and Cherie was a panelist. Recently, I saw Cherie speaking at the Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD) in 2018. Feeling that I needed a mentor to tell my story, I had the feeling that Cherie might be that person. Coincidentally this summer, I learned that Cherie would be on the faculty for Humber College School of Writers Fall 2018. By then, it was already August 2018. I contacted both the school and Cherie and asked if there was any way that I could work with her as my mentor. After a few weeks, I received some wonderful news. I will be working with my first choice. (I have completed this program in 2015 on a middle grade manuscript that I worked on with mentor/author Richard Scrimger. This was my first finished novel manuscript ever.) As I juggle full-time teaching at a new school, writing projects, and other commitments, I know this will be a very intense, busy 20 weeks but it can be done. I am determined to learn all I can in this process and get this manuscript ready for submissions to agents and publishers in 2019.
Malaika Number Three and Play
Great news! There will be a sequel to Malaika’s Winter Carnival (#2), the sequel to Malaika’s Costume (#1). I am calling it Malaika #3 (or, Book #7) and it has been a story that I have had for the past few years so I sat down and wrote it. Malaika #3 is still in development and I have been given a greenlight from Groundwood Books for a release in 2020. I have also been working on a Malaika play manuscript through playwriting courses and now a mentor who will help me complete it. Stay tuned!
Summer 2018 Events and Appearances
It was a busy summer for me with presentations and booksignings. Here is where I was:
Malaika's Carnival Storytime
Tuesday, July 31, 2018 2-3pm
High Park Library
Toronto, ON, CANADA
Malaika's Costume and Winter Carnival Book Signing
Sunday, July 29, 2018 11am-2pm
Brampton, ON, CANADA
Malaika's Costume and Winter Carnival Storytime and Book Signing
Friday, July 27, 2018 11am-3pm
Toronto, ON, CANADA
Malaika's Carnival Presentation
Friday, June 8, 2018 10am-12pm
School Presentation in Stouffville, ON
Words of Advice
Find a mentor. We can’t know everything. A mentor can help us eliminate the guess work. They also have experience, perspective, and advice. A mentorship may come at a cost but can be quite valuable. I am currently working with two mentors to help me bring out my stories.
Writers at the Toronto
Reference Library as part of
Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
I admit it. I gave this book 5 stars because I can relate to the character described... Stargirl. She walks to the beat of her own drum. She is oblivious to the comments and stares of those around her. Not really caring what others think. She is not afraid to go out on a limb. She wears long flowing dresses and sunflowers, plays the ukulele, and sings happy birthday and distributes cookies to everyone. She names herself whenever she feels like it. She goes to the desert, meditates, and finds her happy place. She sounds like some of my picture book author colleagues who I call friends. Narrated by the late John Ritter (of Three's Company series, How to Date My Teenage Daughter), I thought this actor was an odd choice for this audiobook. However, two chapters in, I realized that John Ritter was a natural as it becomes evident that the story is told from the perspective of Stargirl's former boyfriend looking back on his high school years. This does not give the story a dated quality as might be expected but it rings true and clear and very current in that hippy, dreamy, west kind of way. Stargirl sounds really fun and like someone who would be fun to hang out with. The experiences that the narrator described reminded me of the time I tried to "go natural" in high school in the 1990s and again fully, this time, 20 years ago, still way before it was popular. Today, the natural hair movement is a multi-billion dollar industry. It reminded me of the many times I dressed up on Halloween in high school regardless of anyone else dressing up. It reminded me of the best friends that I had in high school that did not "fit" in any particular group (immigrant kids- Indian gothic into heavy metal and vampires who played classical piano, Trinidadian gifted student who sings musicals and had a show on cable TV and political aspirations). And there was me, kid of Jamaican immigrants who loved acid jazz, wrote for the school paper, directed plays, played piano and saxophone, reading African American novels, drawing, and vintage clothing. We all had been on student council too. The first friend and I would make up stories involving the boys we had crushes on. Maybe this wouldn't seem odd in certain contexts but certainly it did in my high school. "Stargirl" is an age-old story, archetypal about popularity and true selves. I can relate to the shunning that Stargirl experienced in her high school. Yet, what rings true with Stargirl is a message of being true to who you are no matter who is watching. You may lose a few friends, even in Stargirl's case, a boyfriend, but what is all of that when you can look yourself in the mirror and appreciate who you are. I loved it and it made the sequel (which I read first a few months ago) that much more clear. Stargirl was so different but she is the type of girl who I see growing up and being a really successful artist or entrepreneur... she thinks outside of the box and unfortunately, her Arizona high school students just could not appreciate or keep up with her. I hope to see a movie of this one soon.
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
I remember hearing about the popularity/household name-nature of this book years ago and the film adaptation but I did not know why its reputation gave it quite the name. Now I know. The Fault in Our Stars was an audiobook for me narrated by sixteen year old Hazel Grace, a sixteen-year old terminal lung cancer survivor. In her circle are her parents, her cancer surviving boyfriend Augustus Watters, his parents, and their cancer support group members. This book was raw, honest, and so very real as I am also a cancer survivor. This book also dealt with the heavy themes of death, mortality, illness, and loss. It is also probably the first audiobook that had me crying at the wheel as re-processed the loss of my brother. This book is sincere. It sounds like a very intellectual, existential, and authentic sixteen year old who has an obsession with an author, one in which she used a dying wish to fulfill a visit. Filled with disappointments and heartache throughout, there is a sense of hope that despite the pain and "shittyness of cancer", there are pockets of beauty, hope, and a bright future. This was a wonderful read. I am looking forward to watching the film.
Shadowhouse Fall by Daniel José Older
This book continues the Daniel José Older "ShadowShaper" series and story of Sierra Santiago in Brooklyn. I read this book on my Kindle. I enjoyed this book and its live action scenes. I think its action scenes are strong, as are the interweaving of social issues affecting Black people such as police brutality, carding, and wrongful imprisonment. I like how Older included allies as well as other characters. At times, I found there to be too many and it was a little confusing however all together, I felt the fullness of Sierra's circle, a symphony, a community really. The representation of Brooklyn was true through the Jamaican accent of Desmond and the Haitian Creole dialogue of Robbie. There is also a tenuous love story/triangle involving Sierra in the mix. I gave this book a 4 stars. I found it to be confusing at times which may be because of the number of characters as well as the fantasy elements. Nevertheless, this is an excellent read for those who love urban fantasy with AfroLatin and indigenous cultures.
The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton
I read The Belles and gave it four stars for world building. In author Dhonielle Clayton's first novel, I read about a French/New Orleans-inspired society called Orléans. It is rich in details and ornate, sooo much vocabulary and very desrciptive. Sometimes it was gustatory as the words flowed... at times I felt that the descriptions and story could have been tighter. This novel was a very slow read for me. I began it in February and finished it in September. I realize that The Belles has a sequel which will be published soon. I am curious to see how it develops. Full disclosure, I met Dhonielle Clayton on two occasions and we are part of 2 online groups for writers of colour.
As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds
What a delightful little book! It was short, sweet, funny, and cute. This was a middle grade audiobook. The narrator is known as Jeanie and his brother Ernie. They are ten and fourteen years old respectively. The adults in these books are funny and I love the vibrant and diverse portrayal of black men, manhood, and a complex father-son relationship. Some may think that blindness, hypochondriac, death, and divorce too harsh topics to be dealt with in children's books but not the case for Jason Reynolds. His characters breathe life and humour and a pluckiness and colour. Jeanie and Ernie are visiting their grandparents in Alabama while his parents have some things to "work out" in Jamaica. I loved this little book which was a short and light read coated with the love and toughness that is family. At first I wasn't sure if I would like it, but it's use of voice, vernacular, and character developments are strong. I liked discovering the quirks of each personality and found myself excited to learn more. This was the first book I had read in its entirety by award-winning author, Jason Reynolds. I look forward to reading many more.
Looking for Alaska by John Green
This was an irresistible audiobook. I listened to it over 3 days. I came to a few conclusions about the author John Green. First, between the last of his books I read The Fault in his Stars and this one Looking for Alaska, I see themes running through-- angsty upper middle class white teenagers, existential questions, and mortality. I could not relate to the characters' upbringing or the private Alabama boarding school where this high school is set as my own. However, I love the smart questions they ask. The narrator is Miles/Pudge who talks about his final year of high school in which he transferred from Florida to a boarding school in Alabama. There he befriends his roommate the Colonel/Chip, a Japanese hiphop loving exchange student named Takumi, a subdued sometimes girlfriend Lara, and the moody manic chain smoking alcoholic, Alaska, with whom Myles is obsessed. These are not your typical slacking teens. They remind me of the stereotypes of kids I would expect to see at a private school-- entitled, self-centred, know-it-alls, cocky who abuse substances but still manage to get straight As and call in favours when needed. I know this is a stereotype and very far-removed from my own experience but I sensed in this book. On the other hand, John Green is an amazing storyteller and this book had me hooked. At some points, I sat in my parked car, listening to the CD, as my poor battery worked over time. I can't wait to read more of John Green's books including the most recent one that came out with the cool cover. I also appreciate that he gets to speak after the reading on the recording is complete.
Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
This book was meh. I remember when it was made into a movie. I remember wanting to see it. But, I wasn't really invested in this e-audiobook nor its characters. I didn't get their world. I didn't get the stakes. There was a lot of cursing and a very permissive environment. Perhaps my teenage upbringing was very sheltered or strict or both but it felt like rich people problems. I liked the musical references but I was expecting a little more. It is not badly written. It's just that I did not feel invested with this one. However, I will definitely do e-audiobook reads more often. I can play them in the background as I get ready for work, wash the dishes, or another activity. I still want to see the movie.
Brother by David Chariandy
This was a shorter novel. I loved how it allowed me to dive deep into a world... one that was not my own but familiar. I read this as an e-book on my Kindle. There were place names and intersections that I vaguely new as I taught for 1.5 years close to the intersection named, Markham and Lawrence. I felt the edginess of the descriptions used, the grittiness, the constant agitation that was very palpable, that something was about to go absolutely wrong, the sadness constantly lingering. Chariandy's Scarborough is mixed with sadness and beauty, dashed dreams and potent masculinities, discrimination and bottled anger, and explosive resentments with insanities and losses, racism and police brutality, violence with no where else to go, ricocheting off the intersections and in the neighbourhood blocks, all within a small area as the narrator Michael and the other characters (his mother, Francis, Jelly, Aisha, her father) rarely leave their neighbourhood. This book was well-written. My only dissatisfaction was the end. I felt it almost trite and very different than the tone of the rest of the book. I am not sure what the ending would be but I felt it abrupt. Nevertheless, this was a good read. Can't wait for this book to be made into a film directed by Jamaican-Canadian Clement Virgo (Rude, Planet of Junior Brown, Book of Negroes, Love Come Down, Lie With Me, Greenleaf).
I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez
Oh my gosh. This book was breathtaking, a masterpiece. Deep, moving, emotive, intense,... Just wow. It shocked me and went in directions that I did not expect. I know it's on the NYT Bestselling list, I searched to find out and was pleased that it will be made into a movie, but the deep issues-- mental health, migration, immigration, family secrets, poverty, feminism, coming of age,... This was an audiobook for me and is written in the first person voice of teenager Julia Reyes. The book takes place in modern day Chicago. She is a teen with a strong sense of voice-- she's rude, she doesn't like people, she's anxious, and direct. In the wake of the death of her older sister Olga, so much ground is covered here as Julia begins to dig into her sister's past. This book, I add to titles which have me so awestruck that I long to write something so captivating and perfect (Brown Girl Dreaming, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Piecing Me Together, and other titles). I look forward to the movie and think it will inspire and speak to so many teens, especially first generation children of immigrants. The characters and situations are so real, too real. Way to go with this groundbreaking novel, Erika Sánchez. I would give 6 stars if I could. Cannot wait for the film!
A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly
This book was amazing. Jennifer Donnelly wrote such a compelling book that felt modern in its relevance and accessibility. Mathilde "Mat" Gauthier (Gokey) was such an interesting character. Like Julia in "I'm Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter", Maude in "Maude", and other books, she wants to be a writer. She is fighting against forces such as poverty and the conservatism of a woman's role at the Turn of the Century as she contemplates marriage and domestic duties versus a career of university studies and writing. Mat is present, reflective, smart, and creative. She is industrious, reliable, and responsible having to take the lead in a household as the eldest of four girls and a widowed father. As an oldest sister, I related to Mat. Her sense of loss for her mother is palpable. This was also an audiobook and a very important read. I loved the equally-brilliant character of Weaver, a Black boy who escaped a Jim Crow south and memories of the murder of his father, with his mother to make it to this upstate New York town. Mat and Weaver are college bound and the prized pupils of teacher Emily W____. I loved the ending and it felt right to me. I long to read more of Jennifer Donnelly's work.
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
This was a good e-audiobook. Short and sweet. It was written in verse but when Jason Reynolds (author and narrator) read it, it sounded more like prose. The book also felt familiar to me. It felt like the Christmas Carol and Boyz in the Hood, as Jason described in the interview after the reading. I liked this book. It was okay. I liked that it offered several perspectives and insights into the mind of someone who just lost their brother to gun violence. I also liked his contemplation in relation to the three rules: 1) don't cry, 2) don't snitch, and 3) always get revenge.
When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds
I love this story of redemption. This was an e-audiobook. I thought wow! Six hours? How will I get through this and before I knew it. I spent the last 1.5 hours of this book, listening at my bedside, and getting ready for sleep, way past my bedtime. I love this story of family-- father-son, brother-brother, sister-brother, and so on. Being my third Jason Reynolds book in a week, I realize that family is an important topic for this young writer. I liked the characters "Ali" and Needles and Jazz and Delores who embody integrity and I love how dad and Noodles are working towards that. I love how this story explores black manhood in all of its facets. I also love how he integrates other issues, the "hard stuff", such as gun violence, drugs, prostitution, single-parent households, and poverty into this story, in the background but also "other mothers", Black manhood, and gentrification. The book is narrated in the voice of the main character. I feel his innocence. There is the potential for this book to be heavy but it still retains humour and growth in all of its main characters. Well done!
Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
As I listened to this book, it felt very familiar. I think this was because I listened to this e-audiobook two years ago driving to or from Montreal. I remembered the toady frogs and the whoop-sloop or perhaps that was also in Christopher Paul Curtis' other book, Elijah of Buxton. I really liked this book. There is a certain magic about Curtis' book that brings a modern freshness to a historical story. This one takes place in Michigan during the Great Depression. Bud, not Buddy is an orphan looking for his father. His search takes him on a few adventures and he uses his wit and smarts to land him just where he needs to be. Bud is a lovable character and I just want to pinch his cheeks or adopt him, whichever comes first. Readers would also love Rita Williams-Garcia's book Clayton Bird Goes Underground. I hope that I will read and audio e-read more Curtis' titles in the future.
I love, love, love books and I admit that I do not have the most time in the world to read. Also, being an avid writer, it it is also important that I am an avid reader as well. There are some excellent authors "killing the game" and I want to read their work some more. In fact, I find that my life style is very "on the go" so my reading approaches reflect this, e.g. reading on the treadmill, listening to audiobooks as I drive. These creative approaches to reading have helped me to surpass my Goodreads reading goal of fifty books in 2018. I have been travelling (the busy kind of travel for research and learning and not the on a beach laying at a resort travel) so I did not read a lot at these times. However, at home, I am currently reading #53, #54, and #55 all using techniques that I listed. And I have a ton of books on my TO-READ lists that i have purchased or received through conferences, festivals, launches, and workshops. Here are the latest books I have read as follows in this third/latest installment of What Am I Reading?:
Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
I attempted reading this reading a book in a course called Literature in Adolescence. Perhaps it was a season of the time (1999?) or the fact that my professor did not know about ya, so he included Frankentein by Mary Shelley on the grounds that it was about a "monster" that exhibited many of the hallmarks of adolescence-- moodiness, self-loathing, self-pity, and emotions. He couldn't be farther from the truth. In Frankenstein's monster, I found an articulate, persuasive, and thoughtful beast of a creation. This book is definitely of its time. The writing is very longwinded, flowery, and full of soliloquys. Often I said to myself, "Get on with it! Please..." Parts were drawn out when discussing intentions and thoughts and feelings but when the actions and murders happen, there was no build-up, nor climax, and it just flowed with way to much background, foresight, and afterthought. Nevertheless, I am glad to have read this book as it is part of the "canon" on English Literature and I believe Mary wrote it to entertain her friends who then saw that it was ripe for publication. As a woman writer in the 1800s, she had a bestseller on her hands. Okay book, helped me understand that Frankenstein was in fact the name of the creator and not the monster, but the book wreaked of privilege and was not that entertaining until closer to the end.
Freshwater by Amaeke Emezi
Wow! This audiobook had me gasping, ooing, and awing in the first CD. Immediately captivating and intriguing. Strong sense of voice. Author Akwaeke Emezi read her book and as far as author reads go, this one was outstanding. I can't say enough about this book. It reminds me of Americanah with maybe the Bluest Eye meets a Roman or Greek play in which the gods discuss the outcome of its characters. Wasn't there a Shakespearean play like that? Was it Taming of the Shrew? I am not sure. Except, of course, these gods weren't of European but of African origin. It is told in the first person narrative from a few different perspectives but mostly through the voice of one in particular. They discuss the main character Ada/Diada like she is a puppet and they are pulling the strings. I gasped when they had conversations with Yeshua/Jesus as one of the characters who they competed with for Ada's heart. I have never seen anything like this in a book, this competition for a character's will, body, and mind. The conflicts that happened, the shapeshifting, possession, trauma, abuse, shifting orientations, and multiple personalities. This book is so unlike anything I have read in the past and was engaging, had me clutching my seat until the very end.
Speak No Evil by Uzodinma Iweala
Now, I enjoyed this book. It had a strong sense of voice and the main character, Neru, reminded me very much of people I know. This is a coming of age, coming out story. Neru is a Harvard-bound track star. His parents are Igbo Nigerian immigrant professionals who subscribe to a fundamentalist Pentacostal faith. The standards are high and the stakes even higher. Meredith is white and Neru's best friend. This book had me frustrated. It is told first through Neru's perspective and then from Meredith's. I was frustrated with Meredith but I do not wish to give away any spoilers and I also think what happened in the end is a very realistic scenario. Having said that, please go out and read this book. Four stars because it was a good book but did not have me "falling out of my chair" or anything. It is also a quieter read. It also turns out that Uzodinma is friends with Amaeka. Of course they are. Haunting.
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
This was a great book with a spectacular and cliffhanger of an end. I read it on my kindle over three months which is a long time to read a book. Partly this was a result of being "out of sync" with my gym routine since I tend to read on my treadmill. Perhaps this lack of continuity was a contributing factor (or not) why I wasn't completely captivated by it. What I do appreciate is the adventure and change of scenery as you move through the story. I love the connection between Zelie and Inan. Tomi's use of Yoruba words, religious terms, and mythology is interpretive and words are used from this tradition and Brazilian culture. As I am also writing a young adult novel influenced by African-Brazilian culture and history, I am curious about the author's process. I do know however that she lived in Brazil for a short-term to conduct research. I also enjoyed reading Tomi Adeyemi's afterword which connected this very young adult fantasy novel influenced by Yoruba and Afro-Brazilian to modern day police brutality and violence towards African-American. I would definitely recommend this read. I can't wait for the sequel and the movie.
That Kind of Mother by Rumaan Alam
This was an audio book and in all honesty, it wasn't my favourite. Rebecca Stone is a poet who is also a white mother of two kids-- one biologically hers Jacob and the other Black, Andrew, the adopted son of her late nanny(?), Priscilla, who passed away at birth. This book was more of a "slice of life", hum drum. There was no major climactic arc-- it wasn't the adoption, it wasn't the divorce, was it finding out who is the father of Andrew? Or was it her burgeoning career as a writer and academic? Or finding her way as a mother? I am not sure. But I plowed through to the end. I think the voice also sounded authentic. The writing is well-done but the story is just not my cup of tea, I guess.
Mermaid School by Joanne Stewart Wentzel, illustrated by Julianna Swaney
This is a fun rhyming picture book. I read it with my five year old niece. I think the rhymes and fun, the pace worked. I loved the diversity of the little mermaids in the illustrations however both the teacher Miss Marina and music teacher Miss Lorelei were portrayed as white mermaids. I thought this might have been a great opportunity to show diverse mentors in this community.
The Case of the Love Commandos (Vishi Puri #4) by Tarquin Hall
An audiobook... this narrator was amazing. He was of I am guessing Indian descent but with a British accent. He effectively read the dialogue, changed his voice for different characters making it really easy to follow. I was not sure if I would like this book but I actually enjoyed it very much. The mystery-solving and discovery were very satisfying. I loved how the aspects of Indian culture, language, and heritage were interwoven especially facts around politics, the caste system, and scientific genetic studies. I would recommend this book. I loved the mission of the Love Commandos which protects the love matches between couples of different castes. I chose 4 stars because it left me wanting for more a bit.
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
Wow! I really needed this book. What a powerful novel. It made me love Black men even more and showed the depth, conflicts, struggles, and injustices they go through and the lives of the women who love them. These characters felt very real. Roy is from Louisiana, a small town boy, who met his wife Celestial at Morehouse College through "the boy next door" Andre. Their lives turn upside down when Roy is accused of a crime he did not commit and winds up in prison. This audiobook is a study of love, family dynamics, loyalties, and psychology. It is deep, raw, and gut-wrenching at times. I am also so happy that Tayari Jones did an epilogue. I hate when cliffhanging endings leave you awake at night. I can rest assured that there were no loose ends at the end of this story. Full disclosure: I met Tayari Jones while she was on faculty at VONA Voices 2016 in Miami. I was a student in the workshop of travel writer, Faith Adiele. I remember Tayari's readings were always soul-stirring and now having read this book, I can see why. I will also admit that I was dually curious about this novel because it was an Oprah's Book Club pick and it got selected for a summer reading list by former US president elect, Barack Obama. Well done, Tayari!
I am so excited to share the news that I will be doing my very first freakin' writing residency in 2019 at the Joy Kogawa House in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
I have been sitting on this news for a few months now. And a writing residency is something that I have always wanted to do but felt too scared to project far enough into the future, afraid to get rejected, afraid to have my work and career compared to others who have published more than I have. I've applied for other writing residencies and not get in. I also saw that there are literally a dizzying number of writing residencies that exist worldwide, in the far reaches of the globe for months, perched on the side of mountains, smack in the middle of an ancient ruin, and arctic tundra, up to a year at a time. It seemed a little too reclusive and hermit-ish which made it a bit intimidating for my tastes. What if I "lose it" while writing alone without human contact? And as ridiculous as this may sound, I need to remind myself that a writing residency or retreat mind you is not an isolation chamber. There are often opportunities to interact with other writers and communities. Some writing residencies very little, having me wonder if the potential income could cover my expenses and debts and others nothing, and others had me scratching my head. Complicated by the fact that I am a full-time teacher during the school year, it is challenging to take off six months or eight months at a time for a huge income cut. It's one of the dilemmas that I experience when I have to choose between my writing career and my teaching career. Nevertheless, I decided to apply to the Joy Kogawa House Writing Residency. Partly because I have had an interest in trying out life in Vancouver (for a few years now) and the fact that a shorter residency of three months was offered, I thought I would give it the "old college try".
Well, it worked!
I am proud to have been selected to be a writer in residence at the childhood home of one of Canada's well-loved children's book authors, Joy Kogawa.
The Joy Kogawa team did me one better and offered me a two-month residency over what would have been my summer holidays from teaching in 2019. Plus, I get the change of scenery that I need to work on my writing projects while getting involved with the Vancouver writing community and run events and workshops. It helps that I already have a few contacts on the West Coast which I will surely be hitting up once I am there plus getting some serious writing in.
Just think of it. The salty Pacific air and the damp humid rainforest, long summer days and mountains, and the creak of wooden floors in a cozy cottage. I will be drinking a mug of tea, the warm glow of a lamp, and a circle of writers clutching notepads and laptops. The grey sky and beads of rain on the windowpanes... I close my laptop and ride my bicycle to buy a righteous organic locally-grown and sourced rice bowl with steamed tofu and nori and lots of vegetarian fare (because I'm vegetarian.) Sigh! The west coast. I digress...
I am especially honoured to be the writer in residence at a site where the values of social justice are ones that are held dear-- by Joy Kogawa, the Joy Kogawa House Selection team, and me. Born in Vancouver, BC in 1935 to first-generation Japanese Canadians, Joy Kogawa was a survivor of the evacuation, persecution, and internment of thousands during World War II. Her award-winning novel, Obasan, tells the story of a young Japanese-Canadian girl who survived this period. And now, I get to connect my own stories of being also a first-generation Black child of Jamaican Canadians, a writer, and an advocate for social justice. (My Master of Education degree started in Social Justice & Cultural Studies which was moved to the department of Sociology and Equity Studies in Education which is now since been changed to Social Justice Education, y'all. I have an MEd in SESE, y'all.) I first learned about Obasan because of my younger sister having to read it in her gifted program. Although I have not yet read this book, I know that is a book that has been adapted to theatre. I am trying to adapt my book Malaika's Costume to theatre as well. I also write diverse stories in which social justice is an underlying theme.
I am looking forward to this exciting opportunity.
It's predestined y'all!
As of writing this e-mail, I have read 41/50 books which means I have reached 82% of my 2018 Goodreads reading goal. I have found many ways to read and have now added classroom read-alouds-- reading a few pages of a young adult novel to my Grade 8 students-- to the list. I am currently in the midst of reading 5 books at the moment. Let me illustrate how I am able to do this-- 1) The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton is the book I keep in my bathroom (yes, TMI too much information), 2) Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi is the e-book I have on my kindle (I read it as I run), 3) Around the Way Girl by Taraji P. Henson is an audiobook in my car, 4) The Absolutely True Diary of A Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (this is a read aloud to my students I began for indigenous heritage month and works very well for these purposes but it is so unfortunate about the sexual harassment allegations that allude him), and lastly 5) a book about Brazil that I must read the first two chapters. I am looking forward to summer vacation (I am a full-time teacher) when I will have more opportunities to relax and read and not only read while doing everyday functional activities.
As of March 25 2018, the following are the books that I have completely read so far. You may notice two things that will be different about this post, there are no pretty book covers nor reviews. The covers are too time-consuming to amass at this moment and time is very precious and in low supply these days. As for my reviews for these books, these can easily be found on Goodreads. (I love writing reviews and I have written two so far professionally.) If you would like to read my reviews see what books I have coming out, please add me (Nadia L. Hohn) as a friend on Goodreads. In the meantime, I promise to find a more efficient way to show the books I read.
The titles listed below were fascinating, inspiring, and rich. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks inspired me to re-apply for an MFA in Creative Writing or at least take more courses in writing non-fiction and write more in this genre. The Sun Is Also A Star simply touched my heart. The Skin I'm In was such a compelling read and an excellent read aloud. These are my March 26 to June 16 titles:
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Hurricane Child by Keryn Callender
Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
No One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal
Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman
The Sun Is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon
I've Been Meaning to Tell You: A Letter to My Daughter by David Chariandy
The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje
When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors
Runaway by Alice Munro
Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Mother of the Sea by Zetta Elliott
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
The Skin I'm In by Sharon G. Flake
Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling
Around the Way Girl by Taraji P. Henson
In this issue…
Spring has sprung!!! Thank you for being so faithful and encouraging. I appreciate the notes you have sent. They have meant a lot. Each time you have reviewed or endorsed my book, thank you. It has been a busy four months. I have been to New York City and state, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania in the United States and Ottawa and other parts of southern Ontario in Canada. I have decided to make my e-newsletter seasonal again since my schedule has become busier. I look forward to upcoming research/learning trips to Brazil and California for SCBWI conference in LA this summer. If you will be close, please reach out.
1. Recap of February School Visits
I had a wonderful February presenting and signing books at 13 locations in Ontario and New York with almost 30 individual events and sessions. This has been my busiest February to date and I thank a flexible school principal who allowed me to make this possible since I teach full-time. As you may know, February is recognized as Black history month (also known as African Heritage Month) so naturally it is busier for an author of African descent, like myself. If you are interested in having me present in February 2019, please contact me early.
2. Miss Lou Book
So excited to announce the good news I've been sitting on for months. My 6th book (3rd picture book) will be making its way into the world in 2019. I have been working on the story for 7 years. Thank you so much to my teachers, critique partners, workshop leaders, Ontario Arts Council - Conseil des arts de l'Ontario grants, community, and my publisher, Owlkids. The long overdue story of the late Jamaican poet, writer, playwright, and performer, Miss Lou, will be known. The announcement was shared in Publishers Weekly and Quill & Quire. Read here for more details: https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-industry-news/article/76888-rights-report-week-of-may-14-2018.html You can also read my blog post about ithere http://www.nadialhohn.com/miss-lou-book.html
3. Writers to Watch in 2018
I feel blessed to be among the 6 Black Canadian Writers to Watch in 2018 as listed by CBC Books. You can read the article here http://www.cbc.ca/books/6-black-canadian-writers-to-watch-in-2018-1.4512356 and listen to the interview here http://www.cbc.ca/player/play/1164405827858.
4. Agent search
I am still on the agent search. At this point, I am still in this process so announcements yet. At this point in my writing career, I feel that an agent will help me get to where I want to go. An agent will also help me to “shoulder” some of my duties that exist outside of the actual writing. As a writer who also teaches full-time, delegating some of my duties is a necessity.
5. Librarian 101
I decided to take an online additional qualification course so that I can become a school librarian. The timing might be a little more than I can chew but it will be wrapping up over this very busy month. At the moment, I am teaching full-time French and English to middle school students in a classroom. I love books and keep my options open.
6. Diversity Award and SCBWI Canada East Writing Conference
I received the first ever SCBWI Canada East Rising Kite Diversity Award in Ottawa at the conference in April. This was a very proud moment for me. I thank SCBWI Canada East for considering me a worthy recipient of this award which included a certificate and tuition for the 2018 Canada East Writing Conference. This conference experience was a treat.
7. Kweli 2018
In April, I was back in New York City where I attended the Kweli: Color of Children’s Literature Conference. It was wonderful to see how this conference grew since I attended the first one in 2016. So many special moments at #Kweli18 and too many to name at the moment but these included an intensive with author Angela Johnson, affirmation and encouragement from author Rita Williams-Garcia, reconnecting with colleagues Zetta Elliott, Alix Delinois, Andrea J. Loney, and Susan Yoon, chats with my Harriet Tubman: Freedom Fighter editor Tamar Mays and editor Namrata Tripathi, meeting new people, and attending wonderful sessions.
8. Massachusetts Mini-Tour 2018
On May 20, 2018, I presented Malaika's Carnival Storytime at the Eric Carle Museum for Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts. What a wonderful time! The Eric Carle Museum for Picture Book Art has a real respect for picture books, children's literature, art, and creators/authors/Illustrators. This was a highlight of my five day mini-tour which included a short stop at the Highlights Foundation Retreat Center in Pennsylvania, a school presentation at Woodward Memorial School in Massachusetts, and short visits with family.
9. Highlights 2018
The place where inspiration happens. Looking forward to my next visit. I attended the Retell, Revisit, Reimagine: Writing Fresh Fairytales and Folktales sessions presented by authors Julie C. Dao and Annamaria Mclemore at the Highlights Foundation Retreat Center. Thankfully I was able to attend this event though it meant driving to Pennsylvania early to make in time for my presentation at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.
Each time I apply for an arts council grant, award, or contest, I am never sure which direction it will go. I have completed applications for several grants (specifically for my writing) since 2013 (and if you include my film festival days, since 2001). Sometimes getting them done means a sleepless night, burning the midnight oil after a long day of teaching... At other times, it means driving through rush hour traffic to make the cut off time or spending an exorbitant amount on postage at the post office. I have applied for several and often receive the "no"s and sometimes there are so many applications sent out that I lose track of them and then finally... tonight, my prayers have been answered. Thank you Canada Council for the Arts | Conseil des Arts du Canada for believing in my dreams. Happy tears.
This grant will allow me to go to Brazil this summer to complete research for a young adult novel that I have been working on for a long time. In preparation, I am repolishing my Brazilian Portuguese through audiobooks and classes, reading, planning accommodations, and listening to a lot of music. I can check innoculations and VISAs off my list. In Brazil, I will also participate in a Summer Teacher Institute with American educators through the Centre for Latin American Studies at Tulane University. In addition, I will attend the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) conference in Los Angeles, and take more time and escape to focus on some writing projects this summer
11. Harriet Tubman: Freedom Fighter
Harriet Tubman: Freedom Fighter (aka book #5) is right on schedule and slated for publication on December 31, 2018 by Harper Collins Kids. This Level 2 early reader biography will be a part of the I Can Read series. It has been a wonderful experience so far of working with my editor Tamar Mays and the team. Please visit the website for updates here. https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062432841/harriet-tubman-freedom-fighter/
12. Malaika’s Costume 2nd print run
I am excited to say that the 2nd print run of my first picture book Malaika’s Costume is now available in stores and online. And this time, it has all of the awards and endorsements on the back. Copies of the hardcover book arrived in the United States and Canada around the week of May 15, 2018. Malaika’s Costume is once again for your purchasing pleasure. I am currently working on my third book in the Malaika… series (aka book #7).
13. Words of Advice
Take breaks. (This one Is for me also.)
14. Important dates Malaika's Carnival Presentation
Tuesday, July 31, 2018 2-3pm
High Park Library
Toronto, ON, CANADA
Malaika's Costume and Winter Carnival Book Signing
Sunday, July 29, 2018 Time TBA
Brampton, ON, CANADA
Malaika's Costume and Winter Carnival Book Signing
Friday, July 27, 2018
Toronto, ON, CANADA
Malaika's Costume and Winter Carnival Book Signing
Sunday, July 22, 2018 11am-2pm
Indigo Kids Ajax
Ajax, ON, Canada
Malaika's Carnival Presentation
Friday, June 8, 2018 10am-12pm
School Presentation in Stouffville, ON
On May 20, 2018, I presented Malaika's Carnival Storytime at the Eric Carle Museum for Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts. What a wonderful time! The Eric Carle Museum for Picture Book Art has a real respect for picture books, children's literature, art, and creators/authors/Illustrators. In the museum, there were 2 exhibits-- Eric Carle and Paddington Bear. I am so honoured to receive a complimentary membership so you know I must return especially for the upcoming Leo and Diane Dillon exhibit. Thanks for your support Eric Carle Museum!
This was a highlight of my five day mini-tour which included a short stop at the Highlights Foundation Retreat Center in Pennsylvania, a school presentation at Woodward Memorial School in Massachusetts, and short visits with family.
It gives me great pleasure to announce the Miss Lou book I have been working on for almost seven years will be published. Finally!!! I have been sitting on this news for months. One day, I will tell the story of writing this, my sixth, book-- why it is so important for me that it be published in 2019, the many drafts and versions I went through, the naysayers and the unique turn of events. I am so excited that younger generations will get to know about the wonderful Lousie Bennett-Coverley, better known as Miss Lou who has contributed so much to Jamaican culture and folklore. She was so many things. I truly wish I had the opportunity to meet her but I feel like I have.
The above announcement was published in Publisher's Weekly on May 15, 2018 and reads:
Karen Boersma and Karen Li at Owlkids have acquired world rights to Malaika's Costume and Malaika's Winter Carnival author Nadia L. Hohn's nonfiction picture book about Louise Bennett-Coverley, a Jamaican poet, performer, and champion of Jamaican Patois popularly known as Miss Lou. Publication is slated for fall 2019; the author represented herself.
The announcement was also made in Quill & Quire on May 15, 2018.