Booksellers attending Wednesday's Children's Book and Author Breakfast at 8 a.m. will break bread with a quartet of authors hailing from as far away as England and as close by as Manhattan. Sharing the stage with master of ceremonies Sarah, duchess of York, are fellow London resident Cory Doctorow, Boston's Mitali Perkins, and New Yorker Richard Peck.
Attending BEA for the first time, Sarah, duchess of York, looks forward to talking to booksellers about her new series from Sterling, Helping Hand Books, debuting in August with four titles. She explains that her goal in writing the series, which addresses such common childhood challenges as starting school and dealing with bullies, is "to help children, by means of little stories, overcome their fears and gain the confidence to talk about them, encouraging them to respond positively to new experiences presented to them."
Illustrated by Ian Cunliffe, each of the books concludes with 10 "helpful hints" written by Dr. Richard Woolfson, a child psychologist who worked with the author on the series. Emphasizing the importance of communication, the duchess remarks, "I hope that both parents and children will be encouraged to talk about the issues raised in the series. Readers should take away the notion that problems can be resolved, particularly when we talk them through and help children feel secure and confident."
Ferguson says she is anxious to meet booksellers, publishers, and other authors during the convention. "This will be a terrific opportunity for me to discuss with booksellers how the Helping Hand series might be received, and to find out the current trends in children's books," she says..
Cory Doctorow arrives at BEA fresh off a seven-city tour for For the Win, released this month by Tor Teen. This is his second YA novel, after the New York Times bestseller Little Brother, an adventure that addressed government security and privacy in post–September 11 times. Doctorow's new book also deals with a pressing contemporary issue—the volatility of the global economy—and introduces an international cast that includes Third World workers who collect virtual treasure from online gaming to sell for real money to rich First World gamers, labor union leaders, and financial analysts.
Doctorow says that, like Little Brother, his latest novel "is an adventure story that uses action and storytelling to expose serious technical and social subjects. One of my ideas was to use the metaphor of game playing to explain how quantitative economics works and how it can go disastrously wrong. I'm also hoping to help kids understand behavioral economics, social justice, free markets, labor politics, and other subjects of note in the post–economiccollapse world."
Co-editor of tech blog Boing Boing and author of numerous novels for adults, Doctorow has warmed to his relatively new role of YA author. "If anything, I find it more exciting," he observes. "You can deal with things that adults take for granted and may think are humdrum, but for young adults these subjects can be fraught with peril—things like telling your first lie of consequence. It's an enormous moral moment, kind of a loss of virginity. When I write for young people, I feel as though the books more or less write themselves, which makes them all the fresher."
Asked what he expects to talk about at the breakfast, Doctorow answers with characteristic candor. "I'm not sure yet. BEA takes place after my book tour, and a tour really sharpens my thoughts about a book, since it gets rubbed up against so many rough surfaces in the form of the readers I meet. By the time I finish a tour, I'm thinking and talking about different things than when I started the tour."
As she has in several earlier novels, Mitali Perkins sets her latest fiction, Bamboo People, in another culture. Due from Charlesbridge in July, the novel centers on two boys living on the Thai-Burmese border. Unlikely friends, the two have very different lives: one is a bookish teen who is forced to join the Burmese army and is injured on a mission; the other is a Karenni refugee whose family's home and bamboo fields have been destroyed by Burmese soldiers.
Perkins's inspiration for the novel came from several sources. Before her birth, her family was forced to leave their native Bangladesh during the partition and lost their home and jute farm. Perkins, who was born in India and raised in the U.S., lived in Thailand as an adult for three years and visited refugee camps there. "I met many destitute yet incredibly resilient people," she says. "What is happening now in Burma is really a forgotten genocide. It's not in the news, but the Burmese government is among the most repressive on the planet, systematically trying to eliminate ethnic groups. While I was there, I had my eye on the kids at the camps and saw how much they have in common with teens all over the world. That was part of what inspired me to write this novel."
Another part was her own twin teenage sons, whom she watches making choices every day—even as they play video games. "Life is all about making choices, and I find that fascinating," she notes. "Even the smallest choices can lead to different paths in life, which is something I explore in Bamboo People."
A first-time attendee at BEA, Perkins notes that being asked to speak at the breakfast "is a huge honor—in fact, it's breathtaking to me." She confesses to being a bit nervous at the prospect of taking the podium, but has a coping strategy lined up. "I will tell myself that the reason I'm there is because of the book I wrote, and I will keep the Karenni people in my mind," she says. "I'll also think about my father, because he is a great speaker. I plan to talk a bit about books as windows and mirrors. I will speak from my heart."
Author of more than 30 novels— among them a Newbery winner and a Newbery Honor book—Richard Peck has written what he calls "my first novel set in the 21st century." An October release from Dial, Three Quarters Dead tells the story of Kerry, a younger teen who is taken in by seniors who belong to the coolest clique in school. After three of those girls die in a car acci-dent, Kerry receives a text message from one of them, asking her to come meet them.
The idea for the novel came from newspaper headlines and from a sad truth Peck has encountered on school visits. "So often when I visit schools and libraries, I find communities mourning the death of a teen who died as a result of texting while driving," he explains. "We're losing teens through texting two ways: texting from the back of the classroom and from behind the wheel of a speeding car. This is a perfect example of how real life is too extreme for fiction—that's why I had to dress up this story with the supernatural."
Peck says that an underlying theme of Three Quarters Dead is "one of the old-time themes of my novels that predates texting: the immense power of the peer group." That power is stronger than ever today, he observes, given teens' around-the-clock texting and computer use. "Blogs and chat rooms glow hot into the night long after parents are fast asleep," he says. "Many teens have never been alone and it's difficult for them to discover who they are and how they can move on independently. Kerry never questioned why the popular older girls took her in, and now she's facing very scary questions: why are they reaching back from the grave and what use do they have for her now?"
The author, who has attended only one previous BEA, notes that he is "very pleased" to have the chance to speak at the breakfast. "I am always delighted to meet booksellers, and this is a wonderful opportunity to introduce a new book that is such a departure for me."