Today, the paperback edition of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland comes out. It’s also very nearly exactly Fairyland’s birthday: the big red book is one year old.

So today I thought I would talk about the Thing. The Thing that gets criticized most often about Fairyland, the Thing I am called on to defend on panels and at conventions but have not written about online until now.

It’s the idea that Fairyland is somehow “too smart for kids”, the words are too big, the folkloric references only comprehensible to adults. That I did not, in fact, write a book for children at all.

Are there big words in Fairyland? Yes, there are. Are there references and jokes about fairy tales, folklore, classic children’s literature, politics, science, 20th century history? Yes, there are. Is Fairyland a simple, breezy story to be gobbled down without thinking, that will never challenge a child who reads it or stretch him or her beyond their comfort zones?

No, it is not.

Middle grade children actually rarely come across a book that doesn’t require learning new words and concepts. That’s kind of the whole point of being a kid. Everything’s new. Everything requires explanations. Certainly no child understands every math joke in Alice Through the Looking Glass, nor every dig at British Parliament in Peter Pan–and I rather think many kids have had to ask what the word “orgy” means when Barrie uses it. Many of us never even noticed the Christian allegory that lies at the heart of the Narnia books. If you watch the old Muppet Show, they make jokes about postmodern performance art, beat poetry, theater management, economics, and every kind of adult pop culture. The complex words they use sometimes surprise even me. There is always a balance in literature for the young–you write to teach and entertain the kids, to delight their older selves, and to amuse their parents while they read aloud or watch along. The best books, to my mind, accomplish all of these at the same time.

The thing is, young readers and viewers are pretty amazingly good at stitching together a story they love, skipping over the parts they don’t get or making up their own explanations. They like to learn new things, especially when they involve giant herds of living bicycles and stompy red dragon-type things. Nearly every “big” word I used in Fairyland can be found somewhere in the seven books of Harry Potter. Yes, kids will need to look some of them up, or ask their parents what they mean. This is part of the joy of reading as a child. Kids shouldn’t be surrounded by stories that only reflect back to them what they already know–and neither should adults.

And part of the pleasure of books like Alice, Peter Pan, Narnia, The Hobbit, and The Phantom Tollbooth–a novel that earned Norman Juster a heap of grief for being too smart for kids and way over the heads of any young readers, by the way–is rereading them as one grows up. Children’s novels can be like intricate puzzles, showing us more and more of themselves with every year we grow. I remember in college realizing that the famous Carroll line: the rule is jam tomorrow and jam yesterday, but never jam today was a fairly complex Latin pun–the word for “now” is “iam” (J and I were interchangeable in the Oxford classical system–as Indiana Jones teaches us, in the Latin alphabet Jehovah begins with an I), but “iam” is only used in the past tense and future tense–in the present tense, “now” is “nunc.” Therefore, jam yesterday and jam tomorrow, but never jam today.

No child could possibly understand this without explanation, unless they were a linguistic genius or a scion of the Oxbridge system. But the joke works on the level of nonsense humor, which children tend to dig all the way. They don’t have to get every level of it to giggle at the idea or never getting to have jam today, to identify with it because of the injustice of parents always promising treats tomorrow. And maybe they grow up and major in Classics and one day they laugh for fifteen minutes because holy cats, that’s so clever! And it’s hardly the only massively obscure line in Alice–a book beloved of children in ever generation since it was published. I could only hope to be half as good and smart as that book that requires an annotated edition for an adult to understand everything in it. It’s always a balancing act, trying to write a book that plays to kids but appeals to their older selves, too. Do I always pull it off? Probably not. But I strive.

I want kids to be able to grow up with Fairyland. To giggle at the nonsense now and see the layers later.

That said, A lot of the complaints I’ve had come from people who give Fairyland to a reader who is just too young. I’ve known five and six year olds who love Fairyland, who ask for A-Through-L birthday cakes or listen to the audiobook while they play with their toys. Those children are exceptional. The recommended age on the cover is 10-14–and I do believe by that age many kids can “get” all the macro-level awesomeness of September’s adventures. Certainly by 12 or 13. The micro-level will come with time. Sometimes a kid, even an advanced reader, isn’t quite ready for one book or another. Sometimes an eight year old isn’t quite up to a middle grade book. That’s ok. Fairyland will be there for them in a couple of years.

And in the meantime, I want to make a promise to parents. Fairyland has many adult fans, of course, but this is for parents and teachers who might be concerned about giving the book to a child. Fairyland is going to be around for awhile–we’ve sold three more books in the series after the sequel that will be out in October, The Girl who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There. This is a long-haul promise, a promise for as long as I’m writing for a young audience.

I will never talk down to your kids. I will never with my text treat them as anything less than the imaginative, capable, eager, excited creatures that they are. I will never give them less than my best work, because I understand that when you give your child one of my books, you are trusting me with a little piece of their development as humans, having faith in me to caretake their hearts and inner worlds. That is a breathtaking responsibility, and I will never take it for granted. I will tell them stories that will stretch their minds and challenge them, that will make them ask you a lot of questions. I will try to communicate to them what I believe is real and true about life in this world, I will not make it a parade of sunshine and daffodils–and I will not make it a grimdark cautionary tale about the essential terribleness of everything. I understand that even if I’m wrong, I owe you and your kids my total sincerity and honesty, my most hard-won wisdom–even about the nature of fairies and wyverns and families and time. I will try to make them laugh. Sometimes I may make them cry. But I will never hold something I think is beautiful and important back from them because it might require a trip to the dictionary. I don’t think dictionaries are scary. I think they’re magical. And I think kids are magical, too. I owe them all the magic I’ve got, because I know how books become part of you no less than DNA, how they change your brain and affect who you will become, and that’s magic, too. I promise to take that seriously, and try with each novel to live up to the wonder and power of that. I promise to use all the tools I have to create the kind of books I longed to read when I was young.

I promise, now and forever, to write stories that are smart enough for your kids.

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I am so excited that I can finally announce this!

We’ve sold two new novels to Tor!I will tell you about them!

One is a companion piece to Deathless, tentatively titled Matryoshka. This is not a sequel, but a side-by-side novel to complete what I’m calling the Leningrad Diptych. It is a retelling of Ivan and the Firebird set during the children’s evacuation of Leningrad. Some familiar faces will pop up, as in all Russian fairy tales, but it will be a story all its own. The gender-shifting trickster Grey Wolf, the Water of Life and Death, firebirds, valkyries, talking dolls and the return of Baba Yaga–Matryoshka is a dark mirror of the London evacuation and a journey into the heart of the war.

The other is my SF decopunk alt-history Hollywood pulp solar system space opera horror mystery! That’s right, The Radiant Car Thy Sparrows Drew is all grown up. (It will probably not be called anything like Radiant Car when it comes out.) A sprawling epic about love, fame, film-making, and the search for identity and authenticity in a densely populated solar system full of planets as seen through the lens of classic pulp SF: waterworlds, ice planets, and jungle moons. Imagine The Artist with giant Venusian tentacle whales.

Decopunk goodness will be out in 2014, Matryoshka in 2015.

Eeeee! New babies! I can’t wait!

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As some of you know, I’m the Guest of Honor for Acon 5 in Mariehamn, Finland. I am SUPER EXCITED ABOUT THIS.

Also, my husband Dmitri is coming with me! This is awesome, as he rarely gets to accompany me on Fairyland adventures.

After the con, we’re staying in Europe for about ten days to take advantage of, you know, being in Europe. We can stay in Finland, but we can also go elsewhere. We have not yet decided what “elsewhere” entails yet.

Would any of our Euro/UK friends like to see us? We are very nice, and do not take up much space. Let us know, it may shape our geographical plans.

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The ARCs arrived on my doorstep over the weekend. The illustrations are heartbreakingly amazing. The cover is…well. Just look.

September has longed to return to Fairyland after her first adventure there. And when she finally does, she learns that its inhabitants have been losing their shadows–and their magic–to the world of Fairyland Below. This underworld has a new ruler: Halloween, the Hollow Queen, who is September’s shadow. And Halloween does not want to give Fairyland’s shadows back.

Fans of Valente’s bestselling first Fairyland book will revel in the lush setting, characters, and language of September’s journey, and welcome back good friends Ell, the Wyverary, and the boy Saturday. But in Fairyland Below, even the best of friends aren’t always what they seem…

Eeeeeeeee. It’s so, so beautiful. What do you think?

It comes out October 2nd. You can pre-order it here.

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It’s ok. You guys can tell me.

We all secretly went back in time, right?

That’s the only way I can get my head around Wisconsin’s repeal of their Equal Pay Act on the argument that “Money is more important to men”, piled on top of the birth control “debate” and Georgia passing legislation based on the idea that women are anatomically and ethically identical to pigs and cows. We fell through a time vortex and it’s 1959 and half of the twentieth century didn’t happen.

That is, of course, what Scott Walker and the rest of the charming gentlemen who are signing these grotesque reversions into law without mandate or recourse want. Hey, if we take away their birth control and don’t pay them for work, everything will go back to the way it was when pwecious Scotty was a kid and women will just stay at home and back cookies for everyone. Yay! No one will be gay anymore and America will drink its milk and be big and strong and we won’t have to worry about recycling and breast cancer (ew breasts!) and unwhite people and that rock n’ roll music the kids listen to. We can law it all away.

Yeah. And fuck you, too. And fuck you to everyone who told me to stop swearing about this on Twitter last night. WE SHOULD ALL BE SWEARING. We should all be laying down so much shit that fucking roses grow on Twitter. WE SHOULD CARE ABOUT THIS AT LEAST AS MUCH AS WE CARED ABOUT SOPA. Funny how I don’t see anyone shutting down portions of the Internet in protest, though. I mean, it’s only women. The headline on Reddit about this is: “Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has signed a bill that prohibits workers from collecting damages in employment discrimination cases.” No outrage, no commentary, just a link. No mention of Walker’s contention that women don’t work as hard, aren’t “go go go” like men, and shouldn’t be paid as much. Women not even mentioned, despite being the clear and stated target of the legislation. Why get upset? Should be fine!

After all, there’s no war on women. The Republicans promise there isn’t. Just because the massive portion of their efforts are bent toward reducing the rights and freedoms of a single group within the American population doesn’t mean it’s a war. Not like the War on Drugs is a war. After all, drugs are bad and need to be controlled or else society will fall apart. Just like the ladies. This is just Good, Small Government. Why, next week, they’ll be repealing the Equal Pay for Caterpillars Act.

The conservatives are at least partly right: birth control and equal pay (somewhat equal, anyway) were the great victories of first and second wave feminism. They are trying everything in their power to take those things away, in the hopes that it’ll activate a Time Turner that will erase the source of those changes as well as the changes themselves. They say we are pigs, they say we don’t need any silly pin money, they say these things and they should be embarrassed, they should be ashamed at what just came out of their mouths, but no one is shaming them. The news treats it like a simple partisan debate. Point for blue, point for red. But no matter what young folks might say, these men know we’re not in a post-sexist or post-racist culture, that they can rely on old, ugly misogyny and the reluctance to stand up for women’s rights that has tinted gender relations in this country for pretty much ever to lube their legislation up nice and slick. When women are outraged, you don’t have to listen, after all. Bitches be crazy.

I know Walker will almost certainly be recalled in November. Doesn’t really matter–he’s fiat’d this into law and there’s an inertia there. I’ve heard rumors that Walker is a top candidate for the GOP VP slot, so don’t get smug in the knowledge that he’s going away. I shouldn’t be surprised, you shouldn’t be surprised–but we should all be terrified. And angry.

I’ve seen a lot of people saying things like “only in the US” and “America is crazy” and “thank god I don’t live there” flitting around, both here and on my gendered online discourse post. (And I want to thank the BSFA for proving my point, that the sexist jackasses, they live everywhere.) And I want to say: knock it off. First of all, no matter how much we like to take credit for things, Americans did not invent sexism. I promise, it could not “only happen in the US.” Many countries, if not all of them, have huge gender problems and many of those are boiling over with regressive assholes in power. And since the UK, Canada, and Australia are all having trouble with conservatives in their government pissing in the punchbowl, I wouldn’t get too excited about your immunity to this kind of crap.

But more importantly–stop thinking you’re special and it can never happen in your country. That is how America got like this in the first place. By thinking we were special, specially liberated and enlightened and awesome and only those other lamer countries had problems. That arrogance allows us to continue to let everything circle the drain, because we’re the best and OBVIOUSLY we’re not really sexist and stuff, it’ll get fixed, don’t worry. Our system can’t have been redesigned to let a few people destroy our economy–we have the best economy! USA! Everything’s fine! GROWTH 4EVAH.

I hate that shit. I know you hate that shit. So stop telling me Americans are so weird and where you live this could never happen. It could. If you’re not vigilant, like we haven’t been, it will.

Doesn’t mean I know what vigilance looks like. I’ve been told not to call myself a feminist my whole life, well before the current skirmishes. I’ve seen vast swathes of young women grow up couching every sentence defending their right to exist in “I’m not a feminist, but…” Because feminists are bad and they hate men and they’re ugly. But I’ve also been told: well, obviously you’re not serious about marriage if you don’t take your husband’s name, if you must be pro-choice make sure you insist that you could never make that choice for yourself, don’t make the first move or boys will think you’re a slut (also you will be a slut), you can have a full time job but don’t think that means you get to slack off on cooking, cleaning, and childrearing, you lazy baby-hungry girl. Men work so hard. They shouldn’t have to worry about the home. After all, you’re just naturally better at cleaning–men just don’t see clutter like you do!

But everything’s fine in America now and all feminism should worry about are the poor ladies living in the Middle East so why are you complaining that you only get 80 cents to the male dollar? YOU GOT 80 CENTS, BITCH, AREN’T YOU HAPPY?

So yeah. I feel fucking miserable and helpless. The fact is that our system is only loosely democratic at this point. We vote nationally on a President and that’s it. We as citizens have no recourse when executive branches decide to get all War on Caterpillars on our asses, and it’s been made abundantly clear that not one fuck is given about organized protest at that level of government.

This is why Wikipedia shut down to protest SOPA. Because that’s all we have, really. Disrupt commerce and consumer culture. But I just can’t see that kind of concentrated action happening in defense of women, no matter how much what happens to us happens to the whole culture. Go ahead: take our birth control and our jobs and call us pigs, tell us to obey the Catholic Church’s most panicked and regressive ideas whether or not we are Catholic. Take our humanity and wipe Congress’s asses with it.

But don’t you dare take away smoothly torrenting Mad Men episodes. How else will we get new ideas for how the country should look?

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