Keris's novel Jessie ♥ NYC
 is out in July 2011
I'd like to thank Keris Stanton, who upon seeing reports of the Japanese earthquake decided to get on with the business of doing something about it.

She set up a blog auction Authors for Japan which was instantly flooded with donations from authors just relieved to be able to help. People, we made £11,000 (that's USD $17.616.50 or about 763,000 Philippine pesos!!!!!).

And thank you to the folks who bid for my stuff - Brendan Gannon, Natalie Baines, and Victoria Bennion won critiques for their opening chapters; Frances Trimming and Anthony Mariano won the signed and doodled paperbacks of Tall Story. THANK YOU so much!


Though I'm a Random House author, I managed to sneak into an event at Puffin Books last night after a tip-off from friendly undercover librarian Rosie Pike.

Well, it wasn't that cloak and dagger, but grovelling does help get one invited to these things (thank you, Puffin or Penguin, whichever the case may be).

There are far far better reports elsewhere - such as over at Book Witch's blog - the book bloggers got exclusive, schmooze time in a private room with the authors. It always amazes me when I read reports of events I attended - everyone else seems to take better notes than me.

I went because I'd just read Morris Gleitzman's new book Grace - and loved it so much I posted a review on Amazon (I was Reviewer Number Two! Reviewer Number One was Jenny of Wondrous Reads - who lo and behold also happened to be there). Grace is about a girl growing up in a fundamentalist sect.

Morris Gleitzman
What I didn't realize was that it wasn't just going to be Morris but a panel, hosted by Guardian literary editor Claire Armtistead. The other featured authors were Ruta Sepetys whose debut novel  Between Shades of Gray will be released in the UK next week and Anna Perera, who has followed up her acclaimed Guantanamo Boy  with The Glass Collector.

Debut author Ruta Sepetys
Between Shades of Gray is about a Lithuanian girl banished to Siberia during Stalin's reign. There's a great video on Ruta's website. The Glass Collector is about a dumpsite boy in the slums of Cairo. Read the Guardian review.

Anna Perera, author of Guantanamo Boy
Ruta was driven to write her book by her own Lithuanian heritage, making two trips to Lithuania - one of which included signing up to an immersion experience which, she was shocked to discover, turned out to include beatings. A guard's boot on her back while she was doing push ups has resulted in lingering back trouble.What struck her as she was researching the forced relocation of Lithuanians to Siberia was how so many were teenagers. Her heroine is 15 years old.

Anna travelled to Egypt and visited communities like the one she portrays, assisted by an interpreter. "With Guantanamo Boy, I wanted to challenge the myth that torture could be justified. With this book I wanted to challenge the thinking that people from other cultures aren't anything like us."

Morris, while interviewing fathers who were being shunned by their sects, was shown a letter.

"Dear Dad,You are never going to see me again now that you are with the devil." 

"In most families the developing capacity of children to think for themselves is celebrated," he said. But in Grace, the adult extremists refuse to give the children this autonomy.

There's a thread, clearly, that runs through all three novels - of children struggling against the direst sort of adversity. "Is there anything beyond the pale in children's books?" Claire Armitstead asked the authors.

"My editor told me to take stuff out," Ruta said, "It's my first novel,so everything was in the book ... every detail!" At one point her editor wrote her a note:

'Ruta, please watch the gratuitous defecation!' 

Added: I forgot to add Morris's riposte and spotted it on Bookwitch's blog- he said: "If necessary, let there be defecation!"

"In the end I was grateful to my editor," Ruta said. "She helped me amplify the hope."

"A story is hopefully more than the sum of its parts," Morris said, adding that books gave context to how young people perceived human behaviour in a "media drenched world" where by definition news is often served without enough context to make any judgement.

Not everyone in the audience agreed that the books managed to deliver hope.

"I was left with a sense that of overwhelming frightening evil," one member of the audience said, launching a discussion amongst the children's book people in the room that left me with a sense of dejavu ... I've written about this before except the authors discussing hope were Melvin Burgess and Anne Fine.

Like the Burgess/Fine discussion everyone agreed that hope was essential to books targetted at young readers..

I give Morris Gleitzman the last word on why hope must prevail in children's literature:

We are handing the world over to our children. The survival of the species depends on their capacity for optimism.