Friday, December 31, 2004

The Little Black Dog Gallery and Bookshop

"The Little Black Dog Gallery and Bookshop was started by children's book author Jackie French Koller. Jackie has written over thirty books for children of all ages including picture books, chapter books, novels and series." Visit online and at 16 Union Avenue in Westfield, MA.

Happy Birthday to Cyn

I'm officially a year older today. There's nothing like having your birthday on New Year's Eve to make a person reflective. Sort of a double whammy.

So, for 2004, I must say--to mutilate Dickens--it was the best and worst of times. I visited San Francisco and sold my second novel and hosted a novelist workshop and went "home" to Kansas City thrice and lost my dad and spoke in Indianapolis and started two blogs, and, well, there's more, but enough about me. Three of my best friends had babies and two of them got married. My husband finished his second novel, which will come out next year. The house has more furniture. I found my share of heroes and faced a few dragons--some slain and others befriended. The new president is the old president, and half a world a way, it must feel like the apocalypse. God is (particularly) in vogue, reality TV is (thankfully) fading, and it never fails to amaze me, the generosity and perseverance of the human spirit.

For 2005, my resolution is to show more kindness.

P.S. Author Uma Krishnaswami listed a number of books to look for in 2005. Very classy.

P.S. Watched "The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement" on DVD, which was pretty much what I'd expected. It sort of does and doesn't work in the same way that "Legally Blond 2: Red, White, and Blonde" does and doesn't work. Also finally saw the last half of the last season of "Sex And The City," which I found especially enchanting in light of the fact that Carrie and Alex's hotel room was at the George V. Can't believe even Alex didn't make time for the restaurant. One of the many reasons Big was the better choice!

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

In The Small, Small Night

Received a review copy of In The Small, Small Night by Jane Kurtz, illustrated by Rachel Isadora (Greenwillow, 2005). Kurtz's 2004 fantasy, The Feverbird's Claw, also was a Parents' Choice award winner.

In other news, Mercury, Bashi, Leo & Blizzy have a new vet; you can learn more about her at Cats Love House Calls.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

A Tuna Christmas

It was a beautiful 70 something degrees and sunny here in Austin. I enjoyed lunch with Greg and Anne Bustard (author of Buddy: The Story of Buddy Holly (Simon & Schuster, 2005)) at Guero's to celebrate her sale of "Do-Si-Fido" to Ladybug; then Anne and I did some shopping on South Congress and she picked up a birthday present for a friend at Mi Casa (one of my fave stores!).

Tonight Greg and I had sashimi at Kyoto and then wandered up Congress to the Paramount Theatre to enjoy "A Tuna Christmas."

In other news, it was a treat to receive a holiday card from HarperCollins (Laura Geringer has the nicest handwriting), and I'm greatly thankful Alex Sanchez is safe in Thailand.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Tsunami in Asia

Contributions to the International Response Fund may be sent to your local American Red Cross chapter or to the American Red Cross International Response Fund, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, DC 20013. Internet users can make a secure online contribution.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

This Is America Essay Contest

Charlesbridge is sponsoring an essay contest for This Is America by Don Robb, illustrated by Christine Joy Pratt (Charlesbridge, 2005). Students from third to fifth grade are eligible. Really cool prizes, by the way.

In other news, it's snowed clear down to Corpus Christi. And if you've watched "The Year Without A Santa Claus," you know what snow in Southtown means! Snow Miser and Heat Miser have worked out another truce. In any case, how about getting into the act. You can make your own snowflake at Popular Front.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

The beauty found between lines of Christmas letters

I'd like to recommend "The beauty found between lines of Christmas letters: For those of us who have forgotten to mention Jesus" by Stephanie Marshall from yesterday's Houston Chronicle. Stephanie is a gifted writer and dear friend.

Merry Christmas!

What Greg gave me: three scoops of bath ice cream (you must try it); nambe salt and pepper shakers that look like vampire hunting weapons.

What I gave Greg: cat-themed bowls; a book on writing comedy; and a Swiss pen (perfect for a writer-lawyer-engineer!).

What we gave each other: an arts-and-crafts bookcase for the library.

It was an honor yesterday to receive cards from Little Brown and Harcourt. Speaking of Harcourt, they have an interview up with Caldecott-illustrators Leo and Diane Dillon--gotta love those husband-wife teams!

Friday, December 24, 2004

Sushi Keilbasa

Some Leitich Smith holiday factoids:

tonight we're having sushi keilbasa, using the recipe in Tofu & T.Rex;

tomorrow we're having lox and bagels for breakfast;

dinner will be tortilla soup, turkey with whole wheat stuffing, French green beans, and berries for dessert;

Greg also picked up a tiny bottle of caviar (la ti da);

the theme of our tree is music;

we have a kissing ball hanging from the parlor entry;

red and green pillows are on the chairs and daybed;

Cyn's favorite pillow says "Dogs Have Masters; Cats Have Staff."

Many Holiday Blessings to you and yours!

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Bloomsbury Buys Walker; New At The Purple Crayon

Bloomsbury Publishing Plc of the UK, the adult, children's, and reference book publisher, announced today that it has acquired Walker Publishing Company, Inc of the USA. Walker is a 45 year old New York based publisher of adult nonfiction and children's books. The business operations of Walker and Bloomsbury USA will be combined although the book imprints of both companies will remain as separate divisions within the US company. Completion of the sale is expected to take place on Dec. 31.

Also some neat new features at The Purple Crayon, including:

The Purple Crayon Blog: Questions about Children's Publishing Answered by a Children's Book Editor, and Current Children's Publishing Links;

Children’s Writers: Who Mentors Them Today? "Musings" for December 2004 by Margot Finke (part one of three). Check back in January for Finding The Perfect Critique Group and in February for Starting Your Own Critique Group.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Devon A. Mihesuah

Heard today from Devon A. Mihesuah at American Indian Quarterly who was interested in my writing an article.

Her novel, Grand Canyon Rescue: A Tuli Black Wolf Adventure, won the Oklahoma Writers' Federation Award for Best Young Adult novel; see the Book Locker to read an excerpt and purchase your copy. Also keep an eye out for her spring 2005 release, So You Want to Write About American Indians? A Guide for Scholars, Writers and Students.

Some promising picks from the spring/summer 2005 Harcourt catalog: Kitten's Big Adventure by Mie Araki; Hide & Seek by Janet S. Wong, illustrated by Margaret Chodos-Irvine; Starry Safari by Linda Ashman, illustrated by Jeff Mack; The Hubbub Above by Arthur Howard; Kindergarten Rocks by Katie Davis; Searching For Oliver K. Woodman by Darcy Pattison, illustrated by Joe Cepeda (companion to The Journey Of Oliver K. Woodman, which I highly recommend); Hotel Deep by Kurt Cyrus; Please Bury Me In The Library by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Kyle M. Stone; Fold Me A Poem by Kristine O'Connell George, illustrated by Lauren Stringer; The Librarian Of Basra: A True Story from Iraq by Jeanette Winter; Each Little Bird That Sings by Deborah Wiles; The Spoon In the Bathroom Wall by Tony Johnston; Help Wanted by Gary Soto; Pinned by Alfred C. Martino; Funny Little Monkey by Andrew Auseon; among others!

Link of interest:

Advice on Voice from HarperCollins editor Antonia Markiet by Kelly Milner Halls.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

My Penguin Osbert

Received the world's cutest cared from Candlewick Press, which featured illustrations from My Penguin Osbert by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel, illustrated by H.B. Lewis (2004) and the Harcourt catalog as well as Let's Talk about Race by Julius Lester (my most searing intellectual crush), illustrated by Karen Barbour (Harper/Amistad, 2005).

In other news: editor Michael Stearns is leaving Harcourt for Harper; Random House is selling its own books (much to the annoyance of B&N); and Louis Sachar has left Frances Foster to do his Holes sequel at Delacorte.

Ick thought of the day: The mid list is disappearing faster than the middle class.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Why I Write

Writers are eternally fascinated with just about everything—hence, our role as observers, commentators, and storytellers. Perhaps then it’s no surprise we spend a fair amount of time pondering—for better and worse—ourselves.

One reoccurring question on writing lists is why one writes. It seems to me that people write for the same reasons they read: to learn, to imagine, and to escape.

It’s not uncommon to hear a published author say they’re not writing for the money—though women tend to say so far more than men and I strongly urge all of them to keep such altruistic thoughts far from their contract negotiations.

That said, I write to lose myself in story, to find myself in story, to better understand the world. I write because writing is my shelter, my guiding light, that which beckons to my strengths and demands they become stronger.

I write because, like life, writing is filled with uncertainty—both in terms of the process and the product. Writing makes me more alive. When I ache or soar in the midst of crafting a story, it is in every way like being in love.

I submit my writing for publication because the best thing to do with love is to share it.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Ararat, Lamont, Singer, and Stone

Dined at Ararat Middle East Restaurant for the first time last night, belly dancers and all. Will definitely be back.

On the much-discussed Lamont article, I suppose I'm more of an optimist. The truth is that I have become published, it did make my life better, and I am a happier person because of it. I've been moving steadily toward making a good living, and I'm certainly intend to make a great one because if that's not part of the goal, odds are, it won't happen. Dream it, achieve it. Bill Gates started out with a dream and a garage. I at least get to write on the daybed. I know there are folks who need a good kick to get them going down the craft road. And it is about craft first, last, and always. But I also know there are those who're just dreamers, and I'm not sure what's so wrong with that. Just by showing up at a conference, they're flirting more with their dream than most people do. Most set them aside or say "someday." Dreams can be scary. So, if they're dancing along the edge of a more self-revealing reality, who am I to judge? I hope they enjoy the dance and gather the courage to cross the line. It's worth it.

Links of interest:

What Makes A Good Young Picture Book? from author Marilyn Singer.

Calling All Teachers!/Peace Project from author Tanya Lee Stone.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Writers, Wannabes, and Booksellers

A couple of sites of interest:

Anne Lamont's article on Salon.com takes a hard look at those conference-going writers who're perhaps "playing writer" more than putting words down on the page and maybe for the wrong reasons. Cranky or insightful? What do you think?

The Association of Booksellers for Children offers a membership to authors and illustrators, which was news to me today. Thrilled, I signed myself and my honey up. Take a look at some children's book creators who already belong.

Friday, December 17, 2004

The Moon Came Down On Milk Street

The Moon Came Down On Milk Street by Jean Gralley (Henry Holt, 2004). The moon has come down softly, and who will put it up again? Who will make things right? The fire chief, the rescue workers, the people. This brilliantly simple book speaks to our universal need for comfort, for heroes, for hope. It's perhaps the best "crisis" book ever published, as resonate and necessary for young readers as their grandparents. A must-buy for every school, household, and library. Ages 3-up. HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION.

Holidays, Friends, and (Of Course) Books

Quite a bustling December week. Toni Buzzeo was kind enough to send me some votives, reindeer ornament hooks, and wine swirly decorations. Talked to Katie Davis on the phone about her work in progress. Ran into Brian Yansky today at Suzi's Chinese Kitchen, out with his mom. Received a gorgeous e-card from Jennifer Ward. It's so delightful. I keep watching it again and again. Also received a card from debut illustrator Joy Hein, whose Miss Lady Bird's Wildflowers (written by Kathi Appelt) is a stunner--gorgeous paintings, fascinating integration of art and learning.

By the way, Brian and I are on a husband-wife authors panel being hosted by the Writers' League of Texas next month. It's called "To Death Do Write & Publish." Really! Fairly hysterical title, I thought.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Hana In The Time Of The Tulips

Hana In The Time Of The Tulips by Deborah Noyes, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline (Candlewick Press, 2004). Hana and Papa used to pretend in the garden that he was ill and she could cure him with a kiss or a race or a rose. But suddenly, Papa seems ill for real, struck by greed, and it separates him from simple pleasures, those he loves, Hana. This intensely personal look at Tulip Mania ("the first documented case of market mania"), which took place in Holland from 1634-1637, brings young readers to a family caught up in its midst. Most remarkable are the evocative narrative voice, the deft integration of the artist Rembrandt, and original illustrations that seem to have been lifted from museum walls. In the flap copy, Ibatoulline remarks that, in preparation to illustrate this book, he studied Dutch and Flemish paintings. Broad appeal from young reader to adult; as welcome in first grade as in master's classes in fine art and literature. Ages 6-up. See also Nancy Keane's booktalk.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Mayra L. Dole

It was a thrill today to hear from Mayra L. Dole, the Cuban-born author of the new multicultural bilingual books, Drum, Chavi, Drum!/Toca, Chavi, Toca! and Birthday in the Barrio/Cumpleanos en el Barrio (Children's Book Press).

Do surf over to her Web site to read the article on Writing Children's Latino Books (also helpful for writing any children's books), Dole's bio, her interviews (very interesting). Also be sure to check out her Cuban recipes, Cuban stories, and Cuban culture page.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Francess Lantz

In memory of children's/YA author Francess Lantz, donations may be sent to: Amber Brown Fund / SCBWI Museum of Children’s Books; 8271 Beverly Boulevard; Los Angeles, CA 90048. The Amber Brown Fund brings authors to classrooms.

Monday, December 13, 2004

A Flurry

Not a flurry of snow, a flurry of activity.

Received two presents in the mail today--a kitty bracelet from Debbi Michiko Florence (so cute!) and a box of tea with a bundle of cookies from Kathi Appelt.

Also picked books off to the spring lists to review from HarperCollins and Clarion.

And sold an article on being a children's/YA author to Career World.

Plus, writing!

Busy, busy!

Vermont College

Next summer I'll be visiting faculty at the Union Institute & University/Vermont College MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program. M.T. Anderson, author of Burger Wuss and Thirsty (among others), is the department chair and called to talk to me about it last week.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Gruene, Texas

Went roadtripping with Greg down I-35 South to nearby Gruene, Texas to have lunch and shop for antiques.

Picked up a small craftsman desk and chair for the guest room (exhibit Greg driving the Olds down the interstate with Cyn squished in a corner of the backseat, praying all are not crushed by a passing semi).

The desk had been painted turquoise at one time, which we're sure dessimated the "condition" value of it, and though someone did their best, flecks of turquoise are still evident in the grain, on the under hardware, and flat across the bottom of the desk door (you have to crawl under to see it). But it's still a tremendously well made piece, and really, the turquoise gives it a sort of weathered southwestern charm. Besides, it was in the budget.

We put the desk and chair in the guest room and moved the seating of cowhide chairs and ottoman to the landing. The cats seem to like it there.

Katie Davis

Spent most of yesterday reading a manuscript for Katie Davis, one of the world's most sparkly and talented people. What I love most about Katie's work is that it's so authentically childlike, exploding with sincere emotion, and at the same time, often funny.

Took a break with Greg to take in the 2004 Armadillo Christmas Bazaar at the Austin Music Hall (think live music, food/drink, downtown, inside, art festival).

Sites of use to writers: eHow: clear instructions on how to do (just about) everything and How Stuff Works.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Horn Book Fanfare

Horn Book has posted its "Fanfare" books for 2004.

Also, I've learned that the technique Linda Sue Park has employed (see previous post) is "metafiction."

Friday, December 10, 2004

Project Mulberry by Linda Sue Park

Amazon.com has posted the first few pages of Linda Sue Park's new novel, Project Mulberry, which is due out in April 2005. They're really interesting. First, they're contemporary, which is noteworthy because Linda Sue is more known for her historical novels. And even more so, the narration is interspersed with exchanges between the protagonist, Julia, and the author, Linda Sue Park herself!

Linda Sue has been writing in new directions lately. This year's releases included The Firekeeper's Son (Clarion, 2004) and Mung-Mung (Charlesbridge, 2004)--both picture books, both wonderful and recommended!

Having been an LSP fan from the beginning, all I can say is, "lucky us!"

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Jane Kurtz

One of my fave children's authors is back from another trip to Africa. Surf by to see her petting a cheetah and read Jane Kurtz: Visit to Southern, Eastern, and Western Africa (2004) by Jane Kurtz.

Books on my to-read pile: Offsides by Erik Esckilsen (Houghton Mifflin, 2004); The Game of Silence by Louise Erdrich (HarperCollins, 2005)(the sequel to The Birchbark House); The Education of Patience Goodspeed by Heather Vogel Frederick (Simon & Schuster, 2004)(sequel to The Voyage of Patience Goodspeed), The Moon Came Down on Milk Street by Jean Gralley (Henry Holt, 2004); Miss Lady Bird's Wildflowers: How A First Lady Changed America by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by Joy Fisher Hein (HarperCollins, 2005); Hana in the Time of the Tulips by Deborah Noyles (Candlewick, 2004); Pterosaurs: Rulers of the Sky in the Dinosaur Age by Caroline Arnold, illustrated by Laurie Caple (Clarion, 2004).

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Jorge Argueta

Check out an interview with Salvadorian poet and children's book author Jorge Argueta from Papertigers.org.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

11,000 Years Lost by Peni R. Griffin

Greg and I took off down I-35 to The Twig in San Antonio this evening to attend Peni Griffin's signing of 11,000 Years Lost. I'm particularly interested in the manuscript--though I've yet to read this current incarnation--because all things Peni are fascinating and because I read the initial draft back when I lived on Lake Austin Boulevard. She told me about her Pleistocene Ice Age Extension Page (a companion to the novel), looked darling in her green-and-white dress, and generally was lovely to see.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Liz Garton Scanlon

Spent most of the past weekend working on a revision of a picture book manuscript I'm writing with Greg. I just love my husband. He's so amazing. And then our writing buddy Anne Bustard was gracious enough to look it over for us before we sent it out. Thanks, Anne!

Today's highlight was lunch at Katz's with Liz Garton Scanlon, author of A SOCK IS A POCKET FOR YOUR TOES: A POCKET BOOK (Harper, 2004). This debut picture book, illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser, is a must-read the whole year long and a must-have for National Poetry Month. Look for more great books from Liz in the future!

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Researching Reality: How a Young Adult Novelist Researches

Read a PDF file of the article Researching Reality: How a Young Adult Novelist Researches by Alex Flinn, an Author Talk from VOYA (December 2004).

Alex Flinn is the author of Breathing Underwater (Harper, 2001), Breaking Point (Harper, 2002), Nothing To Lose (Harper, 2004), and Fade To Black (Harper, 2005).

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Florida for Kids

Young Floridians and their friends can find out more about this sunny state from the books of Sandra Friend.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Jingle Dancer Student Photos

Wow! I just received the most gorgeous set of photographs of students, projects, and Jingle Dancer from Mrs. McGuire and the grade two English-to-French Immersion class, Agnew H. Johnston School, Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada. They say, "We think Jenna is a gentle and unselfish girl because she took only one row of bells from each person."

How sweet! Thanks so much, and keep reading!

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Multicultural Guide Books

Jingle Dancer, Rain Is Not My Indian Name, and Indian Shoes are all recommended titles in "Culturally Speaking: Contemporary Native Americans" by Sherry York (Library Media Connection, November/December 2004). It's essentially an annotated bibliography of contemporary Native books, divided by picture books--fiction, fiction, series, and biography for young readers.

I see that the author has a new book coming out, too:

Ethnic Book Awards by Sherry York (Linworth Publishing, 2005). "A unique resource for Americas, Asian Pacific American, Carter G. Woodson, Coretta Scott King, Pura Belpre, Syndney Taylor, and Tomas Rivera Awards!"

York is also the author of Picture Books by Latino Writers: A Guide for Librarians, Teachers, Parents, and Students (March 2002); Children's and Young Adult Literature by Latino Writers: A Guide for Librarians, Teachers, Parents, and Students (August 2002); and Children's and Yiung Adult Literature by Native Americans: A Guide for Librarians, Teachers, Parents, and Students (April, 2003).

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

In Memory of Francess Lantz

I'm sad to report that children's and YA author Francess Lantz died earlier this month. She will be missed. Below is an excerpted interview with her from my site that was conducted by email in September 2000.

Francess Lantz was the author of numerous titles, including the novels FADE FAR AWAY (a highly acclaimed young adult novel), STEPSISTER FROM PLANET WEIRD (which was recently made into a TV movie on the Disney Channel), and the YOU'RE THE ONE series. Visit: Planet Fran

What kind of reader were you as a child? What were your favorite books?

I was a serious tomboy, so I liked non-fiction books like the Colby series (titles like Navy Frogmen) and True Stories of the FBI. I also loved scary books, like the Alfred Hitchcock short story anthologies. When I got older, I remember reading James Bond books, comics, and Mark Twain

Who are some of your favorite authors today?

Betsy Byars, Daniel Pinkwater, S.E. Hinton -- many more. Some favorite books are MAKE LEMONADE, THE GOATS, MY TEACHER IS AN ALIEN, and TOM'S MIDNIGHT GARDEN (a diverse list!).

Did you begin writing early or were you a late bloomer? What inspired you to write for children and young adults?

I made up stories before I could write. All through childhood I wrote stories and illustrated them. They were usually bloody, violent, and disturbing. But I had a wonderful fifth grade teacher who encouraged me.

Then I got into music and began playing the guitar and writing songs.

I didn't come back to fiction writing until my rock career fizzled and I became a children's librarian. Suddenly, I was hanging around kids, reading kids books, and I thought, "Maybe I can do this!"

Can you tell us a little bit about your path to publication?

I started writing while I was still a librarian. I didn't know what I was doing. I wrote some picture books, a mystery, and fantasy novel. I sent them out and for 2 1/2 years I got rejection after rejection. But some of them were quite encouraging so I kept at it. Then I got smart and wrote about something I really knew about -- a 15 year old girl who wants to be a rock star. That was my first sale: GOOD ROCKIN' TONIGHT (Addison-Wesley, 1982).

What part of novel writing comes easiest to you? Plotting? Characterization? Theme?

I'm a good plotter -- or so my writing group tells me. I'm also good at thinking up the basic ideas for stories. I've always got an idea, or can come up with one fast. I think characterization is harder. Writing FADE FAR AWAY and STEPSISTER FROM PLANET WEIRD helped me go to the next level with my characterizations. Before that, all the main characters were really just versions of me.

Which of your characters do you feel closest to and why?

Fifteen-year-old Sienna in FADE FAR AWAY. The story was inspired by my father's death from cancer when I was fifteen. I drew on the real feelings I had at the time. So in some ways, Sienna is me and writing her story was very intense. But in other ways, she's very, very different from me, and for the first time in my writing career, I had that experience where I was almost channeling this girl, and she was telling me what she wanted to say and do in the story. It's was very exciting!

Which of them was the most difficult and why?

Sienna again. Because she was a very unhappy person, and a very frightened one. That's not me. So I had to get inside her head every day and learn what it's like to be unhappy and frightened. It wasn't fun, but it was so rewarding to get her story on paper.

Can you talk a bit about the art theme, how Sienna's father Hugh had abandoned his painting for his more critically acclaimed sculpture and how Sienna's work was criticized by her parents as "mere illustration?"

I suppose I deal with this issue in my own life. I've written fun, light novels like SPINACH WITH CHOCOLATE SAUCE and NEIGHBORS FROM OUTER SPACE, and I've also written "serious" novels. I struggle with the question of whether I should be writing more serious books. But they're hard, and you can't usually sell them without writing the whole thing. No guarantees! The light stuff is more fun, and easier, and I can usually sell it from an outline. So it's like a quick fix and very rewarding. So maybe I was writing about myself a little bit.

In STEPSISTER FROM PLANET WEIRD, you tell the story from the alternating viewpoints of Ariel and Megan. Alternating viewpoint is one of the most difficult tasks for an author to take on. How did you decide to take this tack? Did you ever consider telling the story from the perspective of one girl or the other?

I sold this book from an outline, and my plan was to write the book from Megan's point of view, the Earthly view. Then when I got ready to write, I realized Megan couldn't tell the whole story. I wanted/needed Ariel to have her say. My editor said, "Go for it." At first I just planned to put in three or four short Ariel chapters. But Ariel took over! She had a lot to say, and she was funny (she didn't mean to be, but she was). So her diary entries got longer and longer, and pretty soon the book was from both girls' POV.

What advice do you have for writers of multiple viewpoint stories. What should they consider?

You have to make sure you're continuing to move the story along. You don't want to tell the story from one POV and then retell it from the other character's viewpoint. And of course, it's easier if the characters are very different and have different perspectives to share with the reader. And they have to both be essential to the story. Otherwise, why not simply stick with one viewpoint?

STEPSISTER FROM PLANET WEIRD was recently made into a TV movie shown on the Disney Channel. Can you tell us a bit about how that came to be?

An independent producer, Ricka Fisher, read the book and took it to Disney. They passed on it. Meanwhile, my agent sent it to them, and a few more people read it. So it was brought up again at another production meeting, and this time it got the green light. They hired Chris Matheson, the screenwriter of "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure," to write the script and they filmed it in Australia. I didn't learn any of this -- except that it had been optioned -- until 3 weeks before shooting began! Boy, was I thrilled!

Were there any differences between the book and TV version? What did you think of the show overall?

The first thing the producer told me was, "We stayed true to the spirit of your book." I thought, "Oh, no, that means they've changed everything!"

But they didn't. There was a lot the same, and they DID stay true to the theme. But there was plenty they changed -- like the whole surfing part of the story was changed to windsurfing because it was more photogenic!

And the ending was changed totally to make it more cinematic, more action packed, and to bring in more special effects.

I'm not complaining though. The first time I saw it, all I could see were the changes. But the second time through, I saw it as an original movie, and I was really impressed. The actors are great, and it's funny.

They're still showing it on the Disney Channel about once a week. Check your TV Guide.

The year 2000 saw the debut of your YOU'RE THE ONE series. Can you tell us a bit about the premise of the series?

Each book is about a girl who has a hopeless crush on an unattainable idol -- and then actually gets to meet him and fall in love with him. The first book (LOVE SONG) is about a rock star, the second (LIGHT, CAMERA, LOVE) is an actor and the third (A ROYAL KISS) is (you guessed it) a European prince.

Kind of hokey, but I made a conscious effort to give each of the girls talents and interests of their own, and to make sure the boys fell for them because of their personalities and talents, not in spite of them. They were fun to write, and pre-teen girls love them.

What's it like to write for a series as opposed to a single title? What are the special challenges and rewards?

First, you have to write fast. I had a month each to write the YOU'RE THE ONE BOOKS. Second, you usually have to deal with a committee of editors, and everyone wants you to change something.

The good part is the money, and the fact that kids get really excited when they learn I've written a HARDY BOYS book or a SWEET VALLEY book. They don't discriminate like adults do. In fact, they usually get more excited about those books than my original novels because they've all heard of them.

You're particularly wonderful at creating a compelling voice for your characters. How do you find their voices?

I'm not sure! Sometimes I think the voice is just me. I imagine myself in the situation I've created for the characters. Or with Ariel and Sienna, it's a lot like acting. I pretend I'm an alien, or I'm a 15 year old with a famous, distant father. Then I start imagining myself in the plot. What would I say? What would I feel? It's fun because it's like acting but you don't have to get up in front of people and risk making a fool of yourself.

What are the greatest challenges to you as a children's and young adult book author?

Selling my next book! Every time I finish a book, I'm unemployed again. It's not like the "old days" when you found a publisher and they promoted you through your career. I've published with Avon, Troll, BBD, Random House, Aladdin, you name it. I'd like to stick with one publisher, but it never works out. And I hate the business stuff, like trying to get them to promote your book and they tell you they adore it, but they don't do anything, and then it doesn't sell and then they tell you they can't buy another because the first didn't sell. And then it goes out of print and they don't tell you and when you finally find out all the copies of the books have been destroyed. It's depressing.

What do you love about it?

Coming up with the idea, writing a chapter that "works," seeing the book with my name of the spine, cashing a check that I earned by being creative, talking to kids at schools and seeing them excited about my books, and getting fan letters. It's all great!

What kinds of reactions to your work have you gotten from young readers?

All positive, I'm happy to say.

Teen girls were nuts for SOMEONE TO LOVE, my novel about adoption, and I'm so sad that it's gone out of print. They get sucked into FADE FAR AWAY really fast too.

And middle grade boys and girls always get excited about my funny books. And now, of course, because one of my books was made into a movie, they think I'm a celebrity.

What advice do you have for aspiring young authors (children and teens)?

Read, read, read. Also watch TV and movies. I learned so much about plotting from watching movies. Then sit down and write. I wrote all the time when I was a kid. It was fun for me. Really, that's all there is to it -- read and write constantly. You will get better and better, guaranteed.

Are you interested in speaking to writer/teacher/librarian groups or to children via school visits? If so, how can interested parties contact you?

Oh, yes! I do about 4 weeks of school visits a year. I put on a really fun, inspiring assembly with a slide show and a reading. Then we write an interactive story called TEACHERS FROM PLANET WEIRD. It's a big hit, as you can imagine!

I also do writing workshops for elementary and middle school/jr. high kids.

What's up next for your fans?

I'm writing two sequels to STEPSISTER FROM PLANET WEIRD. The titles are STEPBABY FROM PLANET WEIRD and BLAST OFF TO PLANET WEIRD. I also have a short story coming out this spring in a YA anthology called ON THE FRINGE (Don Gallo, editor). And I'm writing a funny middle grade novel for Pleasant Company called LOVE WANTED: APPLY WITHIN. I'm busy and loving it!

Monday, November 29, 2004

NCTE 2004

Greg and I attended NCTE in Indianapolis earlier this month for four days. I spoke about how technology affects children's/YA authors and about social justice in Native American children's literature. We caught up with my Harper editor, Rosemary Brosnan, Greg's Little Brown editor, Amy Hsu.

We also had a chance to visit with a number of wonderful authors, gurus, teachers, and publishing folks--too many to mention, most of whom are of course long-time fast friends. But some stars I met for the first time included Jacqueline Woodson, Pam Munoz Ryan, Irene Smalls, Bruce Coville, Jim Murphy, and for the first time in person (though we'd met via email) Joseph Bruchac and Ellen Wittlinger.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Book Promotion Newsletter

From a recommended e-newsletter:

All the children's books by Cynthia Leitich Smith are “set in the Central Time Zone and feature contemporary Native American characters,” she says. “So, for each title, I made an effort to identify those outlets with a related geographic tie and interest.”

Her examples are:

“Jingle Dancer (Morrow Junior Books/HarperCollins 2000) is a contemporary powwow set in Oklahoma. So, I made up a list of Indian museum bookstores throughout the state and sent them promotional information. Many were thrilled to have something that wasn't just 'Native American' but really locally tied to the cultures being highlighted.”


Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins 2001) is set in Douglas County, Kansas and so I sent a round of media releases to nearby outlets, which resulted in a major feature article in the Topeka Capitol-Journal.

Indian Shoes (HarperCollins 2002) includes a short story set at a Chicago Cubs game. When the Cubs were in the playoffs, that was a big selling point at Chicagoland bookstores.”

Reprinted from "Book Promotion Newsletter," an ezine featuring articles, tips and promotional coups for generating book publicity. franalive@optonline.net. www.bookpromotionnewsletter.com

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Laurie Halse Anderson, Holly and Theo Black

The ever effervescent Laurie Halse Anderson's official author site is getting a facelift by webdesigner Theo Black, who is married to author Holly Black.

I don't have the honor of knowing Theo, but if Laurie and Holly's sites are any indication, he's a first-rate Web designer.

My fave book by Laurie Halse Anderson: Catalyst (and, yes, I loved Speak, too, but every reader is different)

My fave book by Holly Black: Tithe (which I've read in hardover and paperback for reasons that can only be attributed to compulsive fandom)

Friday, November 26, 2004

Jane Naliboff

Jane Naliboff's new author Web site is up and running. That would be Jane Naliboff as in The Only One Club by Jane Naliboff, illustrated by Jeff Hopkins (Flashlight Press, 2004). Surf by and check it out!

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

How To Write A Children's Picture Book

How To Write A Children's Picture Book by Eve Heidi Bine-Stock (E&E, 2004). Analyzing more than twenty-five classics such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle and Sylvester And The Magic Pebble by William Steig, this academic look at picture book and picture storybook structure can offer writers insights into their own work at many stages. Have an idea for a story but not sure how to begin? Read this book. Stuck in the middle and don't know what to do next? Take a look at this book. Uncertain about the overall plot? Bine-Stock dissects the parts of each example to reveal how its author created the whole. This clinical approach to plotting shows how the masters of the craft have succeeded. Highly recommended. Recommendation by Anne Bustard, author of Buddy: The Story of Buddy Holly (Simon & Schuster, 2005).

Monday, November 22, 2004

Effective Aspects

A college student (hi, Meredith!) emailed me a few days ago to ask me about the "effective aspects" of a children's book. All good, except I had no idea what she was talking about. So, she clarified that she was wanting to know what a good children's book was. This is from my answer:

What makes a good children's book depends on the particular book in question.

A story picture book should have all the elements of story, engaging writing, a hero who grows and changes, and the best fit art for the protagonist and tale.

A concept book should convey the concept (be it, say, alphabet, numbers, colors) in a clear and engaging manner, one that will engage young minds.

If rhyme is used, it should be flawless and sophisticated.

Humorous books should be funny. Adventure books suspenseful and exciting. Mysteries intriguing. Fantasies imaginative. Gothics scary.

A children's novel must do all that an adult novel does, but the hero and sensibility is that of a younger person. They are generally a bit leaner, though, less self-indulgent on the part of the author. The audience tends to have a shorter attention span.

No kid reads a book because of what the New York Times has to say. To them, it must sing.

Basically, a good book should be the best book it can be, in whatever manifestation fits best for its unique nature. The same could be said of what makes a good person--one that lives up to its fullest potential and exceeds expectations.

As an aside, for the most part, literary children's books are written with a higher vocabulary than adult books, and for the most part, this is appropriate. What matters is the best word for the purpose, not its reader level.

But if the book is designed specifically for emerging or reluctant readers, the author will take that into account. Likewise, if the book is part of an easy reader line, the author's challenges include crafting a story that is so engaging we fail to notice the limits placed on the prose. It must transcend its form while staying within it.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Janie Bynum

Had dinner a couple of days ago with author/illustrator Janie Bynum at Z Tejas. Janie has just recently moved to nearby Wimberly, and we're thrilled to have her in the area.

Her titles include Get Busy, Beaver by Carolyn Crimi, illustrated by Janie Bynum (Orchard, 2004) and Bathtime Blues by Katie McMullan (Little Brown, 2005).

Anyway, the evening went on to BookPeople, then the Four Seasons, and then she spent the night before heading back to scenic Wimberly. Such a treat.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Madeleine L'Engle Receives National Humanities Medal

Farrar, Straus and Giroux is pleased to announce that internationally acclaimed author Madeleine L'Engle is a recipient of the National Humanities Medal, which was conferred by President George W. Bush in a ceremony at the White House on Wednesday, November 17, 2004. Charlotte Jones, Ms. L'Engle's granddaughter, accepted the Medal on her behalf. Madeleine L'Engle was cited "for her talent as a writer on spirituality and art and for her wonderful novels for young people. Her works inspire the imagination and reflect the creative spirit of America." The National Humanities Medal is sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). According to the NEH Web site (www.neh.gov), "The National Humanities Medal, inaugurated in 1997, honors individuals or groups whose work has deepened the nation's understanding of the humanities, broadened our citizens' engagement with the humanities, or helped preserve and expand Americans' access to important resources in the humanities." Further information is available on the White House Web site, http://www.whitehouse.gov.

Born November 29, 1918, Madeleine L'Engle grew up in New York City, Switzerland, South Carolina, and Massachusetts. Her father was a reporter and her mother had studied to be a pianist, so their house was always full of musicians and theater people. After graduating cum laude from Smith College in 1941, she returned to New York to work in the theater, thinking it an excellent school for an aspiring playwright. While touring with Eva Le Gallienne and Joseph Schildkraut in Uncle Harry, Ms. L'Engle wrote her first book, The Small Rain (originally published in 1945 and reissued in 1984). She met her future husband, Hugh Franklin, when they both appeared in The Cherry Orchard with Miss Le Gallienne, and they were married on tour during the run of The Joyous Season starring Ethel Barrymore.

Madeleine L'Engle's science fantasy classic A Wrinkle in Time, now in its sixty-seventh printing, was awarded the 1963 Newbery Medal for "the most distinguished contribution to children's literature" published in the previous year. The film adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time aired on ABC television this past year and the DVD was released on November 16. Two companion novels, A Wind in the Door (1973) and A Swiftly Tilting Planet (1978), complete what has come to be known as The Time Trilogy, which continues to grow in popularity with each new generation of readers. Troubling a Star (1994) continues the story of Vicki Austin, the budding teenage poet in A Ring of Endless Light (1980), which was a Newbery Honor Book. Kirkus Reviews has declared Ms. L'Engle "a master," and in a 2004 profile in The New Yorker, Cynthia Zarin observed that, "more than most writers, L'Engle has engaged with her readers."

For more information on Madeleine L'Engle, please visit the FSG Web site, www.fsgkidsbooks.com and the author's Web site, www.madeleinelengle.com.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

The Literacy Site

Visit The Literacy Site and click the button every day.

"In the last three years, First Book has distributed over 20 million books to children in hundreds of communities."

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Dolphin Quest

Went to SeaWorld--San Antonio this weekend with Anne who was doing research on dolphins.

I love that about this job. You get to find out about whatever ties into the book and often that's naturally just whatever intrigues you (because those things simmer in your subconscious until the related plot/character idea pops out).

And sometimes you get to find out about whatever's in the subconscious of the other writers in your life.

Anne is the author of T Is For Texas and Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story, illustrated by Kurt Cyrus.

By the way, those with an interest in Jamaican concept/holiday books (and educational work books) may want to surf over to SunZone Books.

Sending out a big hug today to LaShun!

Monday, November 15, 2004

Papa's Latkes

Papa's Latkes by Michelle Edwards, illustrated by Stacey Schuett (Candlewick, 2004). Sisters Selma and Dora are facing their first Chanukah after the death of Mama. Papa is bringing home the ingredients for the latkes, but who will make them and how will the family celebrate with Mama gone? Warm, tender, deeply affecting prose; storytelling illustrations that resonate with emotional depth. Ages 4-up.

More From Cyn

I see from the author's Web site that Papa's Latkes is one of The Horn Book Magazine's best new books of seasonal interest. Congratulations!

Tofu And T.Rex

Greg's site has been updated to include the cover art and flap copy for his new novel, Tofu and T.Rex (Little Brown, 2005); surf by and check it out!

Friday, November 12, 2004

Consolidation and Merchandising

These thoughts on the picture book market from newly contracted author Chris Barton, whose first picture book recently sold to Charlesbridge.

"I think the answer is a combination of some of the theories you mentioned, with a couple of others folded in. Consolidation among retailers hasn't been much of an issue in the past few years, but we are still seeing fallout from the consolidation of so many publishers under the roofs of Time Warner, News Corp., Pearson, Viacom and Bertelsmann, all of which -- except for Bertelsmann -- are publicly traded and therefore under pressure to show big returns. Big returns = emphasis on safe bets, and safe bets = books by brand-names (be they celebrities or well-known series), books in genres that have made big splashes (Harry Potter and fantasy in general, which has had a lot of crossover appeal to adults), and books with higher margins (i.e. without all that expensive art).

"To me, there's also the issue of how picture books are merchandised by the big chains. You typically see a wall of a dozen or two outward-facing picture book titles, generally by big names, but the rest of the picture books are jammed together spine-out. Well, a picture book's spine is less likely to appeal to a casual buyer than its cover -- you know, where the art is -- and the miniscule text on the spine of a 32-page book is not exactly easy to read, even if there's a particular author or title you're looking for."

Thanks, Chris!

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Picture Book Market

Reigning theories among children's authors on why the literary trade picture book market has basically tanked:
(a) celebrity picture books
(b) mass market picture books (ie., Disney tie-ins)
(c) chains burying the indies
(d) the decline of school/library budgets
(e) the increased emphasis on testing
(f) a natural dip in the age 4-7 reader population (this is closely related to the idea that baby boomers are saving for retirement and don't have grandkids yet)
(g) the economy
(h) competing media
(i) the growth of bargain outlets
(j) an undervaluing of children's literature
(k) parents expecting five year olds to be reading Harry Potter
(l) a combination of the above...
and if so, the big questions are:
(1) which are cyclical
(2) which are around to stay
(3) what, if anything, can we do about the latter.

If you have an opinion or new theory, write me. I'm taking an informal survey.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Speaker Evaluations

Just received my evaluations from my novel-writing class at the League, and I'm so honored. Lots and lots and lots of 10s. Woo woo! Thanks to the participants!

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

On The Town

Hit the BookPeople and Waterloo Records catalog party with Greg. Drinks on Judd from Penguin Putnam; great catching up with Gillian from S&S and the glamorous and brill Jill from BP, among others. All of this at Opal Divine's. Swooped by between dinner at Hyde Park Bar & Grill and hot tea at the Four Seasons Town Lake. Feeling tremendously central tonight.

Jacqueline Briggs Martin

I hear this week from Jacqueline Briggs Martin, author of On Sand Island, illustrated by David A. Johnson (Houghton Mifflin, 2003), a Golden Kite honor winner.

She sends her "irregular" newsletter, republished here with permission.

Booktalk from Second Avenue

When I sent out the first of these notes in August, 2003, I imagined I might do them quarterly. Oh foolish, foolish me. Fifteen months later I have both time and energy to share some news and ponderings about reading and writing with children.

THANKS

If you are receiving this note it is because you are in some way involved with children's books, possibly a teacher, librarian, writer, bookseller.

I want to thank you for what you do to bring children and books together.

Though we don't often hear much about the value of imagination in our popular culture, I believe the work we do to grow children's imaginations, to help see the world from inside the heads of others will enable them to live more reflective and empathic lives. And such students, as adults, will be a yeasty counter to close-minded "us-them" thinking that only makes problems worse. So thanks and thanks again. You are planting seeds when you bring children and books together. We do not know when the harvest will happen.

WRITING WITH CHILDREN--Making it Fun

In the last year I have come across a wonderful book about writing with children--In the Company of Children by Joanne Hindley (Stenhouse, 1996). Hindley reminds us of the importance of having the right tools--a notebook that seems just for us and a pen or pencil that feels right to our hand.

A few years ago I worked on a journaling project with students in Burlington, Iowa. We provided 7x7 black composition notebooks for all the students at the school. But before they started writing we asked them to decorate the covers of the notebooks in a way that reflected their interests and tastes. Opening a notebook should feel like "coming home" to a special space, a space that's comfortable, and waiting to be filled with observations, questions, imaginings, or word play.

Writers have long known of the importance of having the right tools. You have probably seen writers with special pens for book-signings. You may not have seen the variety of notebooks which writers use for journaling or first drafts, but many are sure that they don't write as well if the notebook is not their own special kind. Children may not be as experienced at writing as older writers but they are equally deserving of this basic requirement.

If you are writing with a group of children I hope you will have the time to allow children to find or make a notebook which feels right for each of them.

SOME WONDERFUL NEW BOOKS

Sometimes I read books which are so exciting to me I want to share them.

This year at the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Conference I ran into several wonderful authors/illustrators and their books.

THE DIRTY COWBOY by Amy Timberlake, illustrated by Adam Rex, (Farrar,Straus, & Giroux, 2003) is a wonderfully funny story about a cowboy and a dog. The cowboy decides to take his yearly bath and asks the dog to guard his clothes. When he finishes his bath he smells so different the dog does not recognize him and won't give up the clothes. This book is a perfect blend of text and pictures and will be great fun whether in group read-aloud or one-by-one on the couch. This book received the Golden Kite Award for picture book text.

JUST A MINUTE BY Yuyi Morales (Chronicle, 2003 ) is a trickster counting tale about Grandma Beetle and the Grim Reaper (in the form of Senor Calderon). It is an affectionate and warm-hearted tale of a resourceful grandma. I want to see more of Grandma Beetle. This book received the Golden Kite Honor Award for picture book illustration. It also received the Pura Belpre Award from the American Library Association.

LEONARDO by Robert Byrd is a wonderfully illustrated and imaginatively told story of Leonardo's life. This book received the Golden Kite Award for picture book illustrations.

APPLES TO OREGON by Deborah Hopkinson is another of my favorites this fall. Hopkinson's narrator has a folksy way of telling us about her family's trip from Iowa to Oregon with hundreds of fruit trees. It's a story of pluck, humor, and history and a great read with a crisp apple.

Reader and Writer Dialogue

As your students are reading my books and visiting my Web site (http://www.jacquelinebriggsmartin.com) they may come up with questions which the website doesn't answer. I will try to answer e-mailed questions which are sent to me. I would love to hear from readers of all ages, but, as adults, I hope you will help your young readers to search the Web site for answers before sending questions.

WORK AND PLAY

I'm excited about some forthcoming books. One--BANJO GRANNY (written with my daughter Sarah, who lives in California with her husband and son, Owen) is very close to my heart. This book will be illustrated by Barry Root and published by Houghton Mifflin in 2006. It is the story of a Granny who misses her grandson so much that "she puts on her thousand mile shoes" and sets out from the midwest to see her faraway grandson who goes "wiggly,jiggly and all-around giggly for bluegrass music."

CHICKEN JOY ON REDBEAN ROAD (illustrated by Melissa Sweet and published by Houghton Mifflin, 2007) is a tall tale about friendship in the chicken yard and the healing power of Louisiana music.

I've also been working on a book for teachers and students about writing. It will be called JACQUELINE BRIGGS MARTIN AND YOU. It is part of Libraries Unlimited "Author and You" series and will be published in 2005.

It covers many topics, including getting started with journaling, writing about a favorite person or place, writing and revising a fictional story, and ways of sharing student writing.

Book News:

THE WATER GIFT AND THE PIG OF THE PIG was named the Lupine Award Winner by the Maine Library Association; ON SAND ISLAND was named the Golden Kite Honor Book for Picture Book Text by the Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.

I hope this season, with its clouds and conflicts, also offers you some joys--the joy of family fun, the joy of good work done. And I hope to hear from you.

Thank you, Jackie, and congratulations on your many honors and accomplishments! Keep up the good work!

Monday, November 08, 2004

Varsha Bajaj

Debut children's picture book author Varsha Bajaj is on my mind today. She's the author of How Many Kisses Do You Want Tonight? (Little Brown, 2003). Varsha and I met when I guest taught a class on writing children's books that was led by Kathi Appelt and Debbie Leland. I got to know each other better at a dinner at last year's TLA conference in San Antonio with Greg and his editor, Amy Hsu.

I look forward to more great writing from Varsha in the future!

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Writing the YA Novel

I taught a class today for the Writers' League of Texas on writing the YA novel. It was such a sparkling class--filled with thoughtful, attentive writers asking great questions. It inspires me to talk to beginners--so much potential. I hope they enjoyed it half as much as I did and learned...something!

I also brought home a stack of partial mss and just finished sending out initial thoughts to the writers via email. It's amazing! With work, every one of them could be a quite successfully published novel. Sure, they were in different stages of completion, but I can still tell.

I invited them to write with any additional questions as time goes by. I hope they all keep in touch!

In other news, one of my mentees Debbi Michiko Florence, writes today in her blog of her first gig as a writer. I'm so proud of her!

Friday, November 05, 2004

Healing Books

My friend Kathi Appelt sent me a book today, Seven Choices: Finding Daylight After Loss Shatters Your World by Elizabeth Harper Neeld, Ph.D. (Warner Books, 1990, 2003).

I was flipping through the book when a chapter titled "Helping Children and Teenagers Deal With Loss" caught my eye. Among the recommended resources is my first novel, Rain Is Not My Indian Name (Harper, 2001), along with some of my favorite books about grieving/healing, including Bluebird Summer by Deborah Hopkinson (Harper, 2001) and books about hope, including River Friendly, River Wild by Jane Kurtz (Simon & Schuster, 2000).

Nifty link:

The Teen Book Club from Dear Reader. Sign up online to receive chapters of top YA novels in your "in" box. This week's book is Comedy Girl by Ellen Schreiber.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

The Planet Esmé Bookroom

Oh, happy day!

The Planet Esmé Bookroom is a new "private, non-circulating library and literary salon geared toward parents and elementary school teachers is dedicated to the principles found in How to Get Your Child to Love Reading by Esmé Raji Codell."

It's located at 2646 West Pratt in Chicago.

I love Esmé! I love books! I love Chicago!

Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Celebrity Books

I generally refrain from cranky-ness as it too often bears no fruit. However, on the subject of celebrity books, I must say that most of the celebrities themselves are in fact unknown to children; the appeal is to parents out of touch with their own young readers. At the very least, these books send the message that quality does not matter. I'm by no means alone in this opinion.

Check out...

Critics, authors chafe as more celebrities join ranks of children's authors by Karen MacPherson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Learn more about Linda Sue Park, Jane Yolen, Katie Davis, Maurice Sendak, and Robert McCloskey.

Kid Magazine Writers

This week, I'm largely devoting myself to preparing for a class on "Writing The YA Novel" and upcoming talks on "Native American Children's Literature" and on "Technology and Children's Literature." Each of these are wholly customized for the particular audiences and all of them will be augmented by handouts.

I'm also trying to let my WIP rest with some mixed results (on the trying, not on the manuscript).

Here's a link of interest:

Kid Magazine Writers: a Web site for those who write for children's magazines, which includes market information (such as editor interviews), writing lifestyle issues, and craft.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

The People Could Fly

The People Could Fly by Virginia Hamilton, illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon (Knopf, 2004). A picture book edition of one of the 24 stories in Hamilton's The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales (1985) featuring breathtaking, heartbreaking, heart soaring illustrations by the Dillons. The text is a poem, a story, a fantasy, a celebration of freedom. Hamilton died in 2002, and this book is a perfect tribute. If only every home and library could have a copy. If only. (ages 7-up). Highest recommendation; a necessity.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Author Interview and Web Site Updates

Debbi Michiko Florence writes that she has updated a number of the interviews on her site. Check out the latest news from:
Pat Lowery Collins;
Laura Williams McCaffrey;
Greg Leitich Smith (that's my honey!);
Cynthia Leitich Smith (that's me!).

Visit children's author/illustrator Teri Sloat! Her site is fun, colorful, and includes information about her titles, including: From Letter To Letter (Dutton); From One To One Hundred (Dutton); The Really, Really Bad Book Of Monster Jokes (Candlewick); There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Trout (Holt); and many more!

Mississippi Morning

Mississippi Morning by Ruth Vander Zee, illustrated by Floyd Cooper (Eerdman's, 2004). James always accepted that blacks and whites couldn't eat at the same tables or drink from the same fountains, but he's shocked and horrified when his fishing buddy LeRoy tells him about the misdeeds of the Klan, and even more stricken to see his own father walking home one morning in a white hood and robe. Ages 9-up.

More From Cyn

Despite the traditional focus of multicultural children's literature on racism (among other things), it is rare and important to see a story in which a child must confront racist and violent actions coming from his own family.

Mississippi Morning is a historical book, set in the south, which is completely appropriate; but unfortunately, it should also be noted that the Klan still exists today and by no means restricts its activities or membership to the southern United States.

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Sock Monkey Goes To Hollywood

Sock Monkey Goes To Hollywood: A Star Is Bathed by CeCe Bell (Candlewick, 2003). The good news: Sock Monkey, the famous actor, has been invited to the Oswald Awards; he was nominated for Best Supporting Toy. The bad news: He has to be clean at the event. Stinky soap, icy water, scratchy towels! Whatever will Sock Monkey do? This hilarious story is packed with emotion and drama, a must-read for reluctant bathers and those who love them. Ages 3-up. First time author/illustrator to watch!

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Texas Book Festival 2004

"People say you should write what you know, and I don't think that's true. I think you should write what you can imagine. That ability, that's what makes you an author."

-- Walter Dean Myers at the Texas Book Festival, Austin 2004

Had a delightful day at the Texas Book Festival with Greg.

We went to readings by Austinite Brian Yansky on My Road Trip To The Pretty Girl Capital of the World and my friend, Alex Sanchez, on So Hard To Say.

I stayed on for a panel with Sherry Garland on Voices of the Alamo, Judy Alter on Sam Houston is my Hero, Mary Penson on Billy Bardin and the Witness Tree and Julie Lake on Galveston's Summer of the Storm. Here's sending up a special cheer for Julie, an oh-so articulate TBF first-timer. Julie also headed up Austin SCBWI's first ever exhibit booth at the festival, which looked spectacular!

Last, but by no means least, we stayed on to hear a discussion with Kimberly Willis Holt, Walter Dean Myers, and (again) Alex Sanchez on YA writing. It was my first time to ever hear Myers speak, and he was every bit the gracious gentleman, genius, and living legend I expected. Kimberly is a long-time friend, and I look forward to speaking with her myself in Houston in January.

Author sightings also included Dianna Hutts Aston, Frances Hill, Mary Lankford, Diane Gonzales Bertrand, Jane Peddicord, D. Anne Love, and April Lurie.

Winter's Gift

Winter's Gift by Jane Monroe Donovan (Sleeping Bear, 2004). In years past, the old man would celebrate Christmas with his wife, put a star on the top of the tree. But during this year's holiday blizzard, he decides there is to be no tree, no star, because his wife has recently died. He's surprised to find a mare that night though, fallen in the storm, and brings her into the barn for care and safekeeping. What surprise will she have for him come morning? Will there ever be another star? Ages 5-up; highly suitable for adults.

Friday, October 29, 2004

One Mitten

ONE MITTEN by Kristine O'Connell George, illustrated by Maggie Smith (Clarion, 2004). What can one mitten do? Or, even better, how about two? (Unlike me) George is a master at light, happy rhyme for Pre-K, making this friendly book ith its endearing illustrations a winner. Ages 3-up.

As it happens, I received an update yesterday from Kristine's Web site; this (reproduced with permission) is what she says:

"Greetings!

"Elves (well, at least one elf) have been hard at work updating my web site: www.kristinegeorge.com. Below are a few highlights.

"HUMMINGBIRD NEST: A JOURNAL OF POEMS (illustrated by Barry Moser; Harcourt Children's Books) includes new links, resources, New York Times book review, and audio clips with a musical background. A free poster and other poetry goodies are available. (For details, click on Hummingbird Nest: A Journal of Poems or For Teachers.)

"ONE MITTEN (illustrated by Maggie Smith; Clarion Books) was just published! We've launched a fast and easy Internet project to celebrate the joy and power of creativity: The One Mitten Imagination Challenge in which students in K-3 are invited to submit their ideas and tell us what they'd do with just one mitten. Students' ideas will be showcased on the site and there will be a drawing from among the entries for 25 autographed copies of the book. See the One Mitten Teacher's Guide on the site as well as the downloadable teacher's guide for ideas on using mittens across the curriculum. Feel free to forward this e-mail to elementary teachers, librarians, bookstore owners, and homeschoolers. The more the merrier!

"SWIMMING UPSTREAM: MIDDLE SCHOOL POEMS (illustrated by Debbie Tilley; Clarion Books) was chosen as an IRA-CBC Children's Choice. The downloadable teacher's guide and the discussion guide are among the most popular features on my site and I've received wonderful feedback from teachers who have used the book and these guides in their classrooms. Curious as to what students think about middle school? Check out Middle School Musings.

"Other updates are scattered throughout the site. If you haven't visited recently, there's also a whole new look. As always, many thanks for your notes, encouragement, and suggestions. Knowing you are "out there" sharing poetry with young people keeps me going!"


Thank you, Kristine, and keep up the great work!

In other news, information for Kindling Words 2005 is available from the Web site. It appears that Susan Salzman Raab will be the keynote speaker, talking about establishing one's own publishing identity.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Michelle Meadows

I received a letter today from Michelle Meadows, one year after the release of her debut picture book; this is what CLSCLR had to say about it:

THE WAY THE STORM STOPS by Michelle Meadows, illustrated by Rosanne Litzinger (Henry Holt, 2003). In this every-beat-just-right debut picture book, Meadows crafts for young readers the beauty, excitement, awe, scariness, and comfort of a storm. Litzinger's soft art is just right for a rainy day or night. Wonderful and rare multicultural pre-K book with a universal theme. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Meadows writes that the book also received raves from Ebony magazine, The Washington Post, Washington Parent, School Library Journal, and the Gazette newspaper (among others). It's also been recommended by several respected sources (including the University of Michigan Health System) as a resource for helping children cope with fear of thunderstorms. Great news!

In other news, an exhibit of Paul O. Zelinsky's work, Angels to Ogres" will open November 4th ath the National Center for Children's Illustrated Literature.

Had the pleasure of lunching today at Katz's with newly contracted author Chris Barton, who just sold his first (picture) book to Charlesbridge (editor is the sparkling Yolanda LeRoy). Nice guy! Look for great things from him.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Jim Stevenson

Texas author Jim Stevenson has posted a new newsletter. Jim is the author of 5K Runner; I met him at TLA (I think) last year. Lovely man. Kathi Appelt introduced us.

I'm pulling materials right now for my YA Novels class for the Writers' League of Texas. Should be interesting. I hope people bring partials as invited. It'll be more vibrant that way. We'll see.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

What If You Met A Pirate?

What If You Met A Pirate? A historical voyage of seafaring speculation by Jan Adkins (Roaring Brook, 2004). The word "pirate" evokes parrots, peg legs, daggers and swords, but that image is mere fiction. In a color illustrated, question-and-answer format, Adkins gives young readers the real scoop on such matters as "who got to be a pirate?" "What did a pirate ship look like?" "How did pirates attack?" The illustrations are detailed and clearly labeled with interesting side bars (do you know a cutlass from a boarding ax?) in an informative conversational style. Complete with index and glossary; beautifully produced. Highly recommended.

More from Cyn

From the flap copy, I learned that one of Adkins previous books, The Art and Industry of Sandcastles, was nominated for a National Book Award. He also has another title with Roaring Brook, Bridges: From My Side To Yours.

What If You Met A Pirate? is a tremendous non-fiction book, as engaging to strong readers as reluctant ones. It makes me want to write a pirate novel.

Visit Jan Adkins online and meet the "Explainer General" for yourself!

Monday, October 25, 2004

Unexpected Development

"Bongos, boobs, cantaloupes, chi-chis, grapefruits, headlights, high beams, Himalayas, honkers, hooters, jugs, marangas, melons, mountains, ta-tas, taters, tits, tomatoes, watermelons, and yams."

-- Megan in Unexpected Development

Unexpected Development by Marlene Perez (Roaring Brook, 2004). What did Megan do over her summer vacation, Mrs. Westland? Sex. That's what she relates in her answering essay. But that's not all. Megan also works at a pancake house, fends off sexual harassment, contemplates breast reduction surgery, and finds herself overwhelmed when a crush turns into a real boyfriend with everything that implies. With its emphasis on body language and virginity lost, this debut novel has an engaging voice and an Are-You-There-God-It's-Me-Margaret-meets-Forever quality sure to win readers. Highly recommended. Ages 12-up.

More from Cyn

Having been somewhat bountiful myself from fifth grade on, I appreciated that Perez didn't boil the plot line into one neatly containable issue from mass digestion.

In youth lit, too often when we're exploring a perspective not shared by all, the tendency is to exclusively zero in on one facet for reader translation.

The upside, I suppose, is that it's easier to digest. The downside is that it's so lacking in real-life complexity as to be misleading.

Sexuality, sexual harassment, and body image issues are inseparable, and Perez does a deft job of showing that sometimes uncomfortable relationship.

Other pluses: the cover (which the accompanying letter notes was "too bold" for the tastes of a major chain store); the Midwestern setting (can't begin to say how many people ask me why all books are set on the coasts!); the likelihood to encourage conversation; a first-time author to cheer for!

From the author's Web site, I see that the book (to be released in September) is already an ALA Quick Pick nominee and featured in:

Capital T Spells Trouble: Ten "Dangerous" Books and Why Teens Need Them by Cathy Belben from the Smart Writers Journal.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Pooja Makhijani

"The First Time," a short story by Pooja Makhijani is available online from Cicada, a young adult magazine published by Carus.

Pooja is also the author of Mama's Saris (Little Brown, 2006).

Friday, October 22, 2004

"The Political Dr. Suess"

Chris Barton, Austin's newest under-contract author (Charlesbridge), wrote this morning to let me know about an upcoming PBS program, "The Political Dr. Seuss."

Off to a school vist this afternoon at Mathews Elementary in Austin!

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

O. Henry Middle School

What a fun visit Greg and I had this morning at O. Henry Middle School.

It was such a delight to walk into the library, all spooky for Halloween, and see such titles on display as Shattering Glass and Dead Girls Don't Write Letters by Gail Giles as well as The Afterlife by Gary Soto.

The sparkling librarian also mentioned that the Circe Du Freak series by Darren Shan was hugely popular--so much so that she was surfing amazon.co.uk to get new titles in more quickly.

Greg and I talked to an enthusiastic group about Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo as well as Rain Is Not My Indian Name. Then we lead the group in a pre-writing exercise to create a character work sheet (let's hear it for Greg the orphaned frog who can't sing but can fly and wants to find true love!). The students wrote letters to themselves from Greg the frog and volunteers read theirs aloud--thoughtful and hilarious! We were most impressed.

Quote of the day: "All the really hot frogs live in Pflugerville!"

Two Timely Titles

Some buzz....

My Teacher for President by Kay Winters, illustrated by Denise Brunkus (Dutton, 2004) just went into its third printing and is a winner this election year.

I was asked today by an Austin Public Librarian to speak, and (at three invites a day) was already booked. But along the way, I learned that Austinite Phil Yates' Ten Little Mummies, illustrated by G. Brian Karas is going into paperback reprint--no small event with a picture book--and Scholastic is planning to sell it with gauze so kids can wrap themselves up in it. Spooky, eh?

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Bonjour

Some interest today in a possible French language edition of Rain Is Not My Indian Name (Harper, 2001). I forwarded them onto my agent. We'll see what happens.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Rutgers

Heard many good things about this past weekend at Rutgers from Debbi Michiko Florence and Rosemary Brosnan. Looking forward to a report from Sean Petrie.

Lunch at Katz's; dinner at Hyde Park.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Rejuvination

Had a first-rate time at the Austin SCBWI conference this weekend at the Pecan Street Cafe (only whine: very lukewarm lunch).

Learned that Candlewick is every bit as magical as I'd imagined it was (as was editor Sarah Ketchersid, who recited Greg's favorite speech from Shakespeare), that Charlesbridge is growing in exciting new directions (transitional and middle grade fiction under editor Judy O'Malley), and that Roaring Brook--love, love, love the house; needs a Web site--has thrown its hat into the graphic novels trend by going for literary quality under Mark Seigel (illustrator of Sea Dogs by Lisa Wheeler and Long Night Moon by Cynthia Rylant). Also mucho impressed with the speech by oh-so-charming Rosemary Stimola, which among other things, made me curious about sub agents.

Best news of the day: Chris Barton sold a first book to Charlesbridge! Yahoo!

Carried on with Stephanie to Musashino's, then to the Driskill where we ran into the whole Austin Film Fest, including Page who joined us afterward at Katz's.

Key Question: when on earth did fish-net stockings come back in?

I'm so out of touch. Sigh.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Wonder Woman

Yesterday, I finished the new draft of my manuscript. Today the house is actually clean, and the company will be arriving within the next half hour. My hair even looks cute today. Perhaps never before have I felt so everyday va-va-va-Cyn, like Wonder Woman.

Surf by Belle Yang and the newly redesigned Georgia Children's Book Awards site.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

National Book Award Finalists Announced

The newly announced National Book Award finalists are:

Deb Caletti for Honey, Baby, Sweetheart
(Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)

Pete Hautman for Godless
(Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)

Laban Carrick Hill for Harlem Stomp!: A Cultural History of the Harlem Renaissance
(Megan Tingley Books/Little, Brown & Company)

Shelia P. Moses for The Legend of Buddy Bush
(Margaret K. McElderry Books/Simon & Schuster Children's
Publishing Division)

Julie Anne Peters for Luna: A Novel
(Megan Tingley Books/Little, Brown & Company)

Congratulations to my husband's publisher (Little Brown) for their double coup as well as S&S for their triple, and all the authors, especially Julie Anne Peters whose work I've admired for some time.

Here is an interview from my site with Julie Anne Peters from earlier this year.

LUNA by Julie Anne Peters (Little Brown, 2004). It seems like forever that Regan has been keeping the secret that her brother Liam is really Luna, is really a girl instead. After years of struggle, Luna's ready to start taking steps--small then tremendous--to make her inside reality an outside reality. But will Regan lose herself in trying to be the best confidante, the best sibling she can? A breakthrough book about two siblings, one transgendered and one sacrificing much of herself out of love. Read also Her Humor Hits Home: An Interview With Julie Anne Peters by Peggy Tibbetts from Writing-World.com (focusing on Julie's middle grade fiction).

What was your initial inspiration for creating this book?

I had a visitation. In February 2001 I’d just completed two novels without a break: KEEPING YOU A SECRET (a YA lesbian love story) and BETWEEN MOM AND JO (which may forever remain a secret if we keep pushing back the pub date). I was catching up on sleep. I’m a terrible insomniac anyway, and most of my head work for a book is done in bed, lying awake, working through nuances in character and plot, dialogue, language, transitions. This particular morning, I remember so vividly, a strong presence woke me. She was a girl, sixteen or so, with shoulder-length blonde hair and bangs. Characters don’t usually come to me so visually distinct and fully formed. She said, “Write about me.”

I said, "No. Go away. Come back later."

She did, the next night. "Write about me."

“No,” I said. “But who are you?”

She replied, “I’m Luna.”

I remember thinking, That would make a great title for a YA novel. But I wasn’t ready to start a new book. I fended Luna off, for weeks and weeks. Finally, I just got so irritated with her waking me up at three A.M., I sniped, “What? Write what? What’s your story?”

She smiled, demurely, and said, “I’m transsexual.”

Whoa.

What was the timeline between spark and publication, and what were the major events along the way?

After my initial resistance (and I was resistant to writing this book; I didn’t feel I could tell Luna’s story authentically), I began to research transsexualism. I knew zip, zero, zilch about being transgender or gender-variant. I should’ve known, but gender identity and sexual orientation are two different animals. Beyond case studies and psychology texts there’s a dearth of mainstream fiction dealing with the subject. After six months my knowledge of their lives only scratched the surface, and to write a novel I need to know my characters intimately, to get under their skin. I called the Gender Identity Center of Colorado and cried, "Help!"

I asked if they could hook me up with a person who’d be willing to talk to me about growing up transgender. They invited me to a support group meeting.

To demonstrate the extent of my ignorance, I thought I’d be walking into a roomful of Ru Pauls. I’d be the most underdressed girl there. Stupid. They were just a group of ordinary people, in different stages of transition, gathering together to share their trials and triumphs.

I explained that I was working on this novel and asked if anyone was willing to sit down and share their story with me. Were they willing? They were desperate. Desperate for people to know and understand them. Almost every person in that room volunteered to help. Somehow word got out that I was doing this book and my e-mail box began to fill with letters from transgender people who wanted to participate in the project.

The book was two years in the writing and revising. My agent, Wendy Schmalz, and my editor at Little, Brown, Megan Tingley, are both enlightened, progressive, and intrepid people and industry professionals. They embraced the book with enthusiasm.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing it to life?

About halfway through the novel, I abandoned the project altogether. I felt that fictionalizing the lives of these people was trivializing their struggle. The next day – it’s so weird to think back on this – an article appeared in the Rocky Mountain News about the brutal murder of a gay teen in Cortez, Colorado, Fred Martinez, Jr. As I was reading the testimonials from his friends, I realized Fred wasn’t gay. He was transgender. His life, his journey of self-discovery, had been denied him by an ignorant and violent society. I felt it was a sign that I should finish Luna; that it could serve as a way to educate people. I knew if the book ever came to publication, I’d dedicate it to Fred.

There were, in fact, literary challenges to pulling this thing off. The major one was my stubborn bias in favor of authentic voices in LGBTQI literature. I’m not trans. I never will be. My authenticity bias couldn’t be compromised. To be authentic and honest, the narrator, the main character, would need to act in the role of observer. I decided to create a sister for Luna, Regan. Regan would be Luna’s confidante throughout life and in that way she could see, and relate to the reader, the childhood manifestations of being born transgender.

Of course Regan would need her own story. What could she possibly want or need that could equal the ferocity of Luna’s survival instinct to transition to another sex? When I figured out the answer, it seemed obvious. Young readers will no doubt get there faster than I did.

The challenge of exploring Luna’s childhood with flashbacks was a new writing experience for me. I’m always battling my own biases. I’m not a huge fan of flashbacks in novels, since they tend to pull readers out of the central storyline. Too often flashbacks are a lazy way for the writer to fill in backstory. But in the writing process, as I was recreating Luna’s past, my subconscious writer kicked in and switched the narrative from past to present tense. Yikes. I didn’t know if that had ever been done before. Young adult literature is all about experimentation and risk-taking. There are no rules, no limitations, no literary expectations to overcome. I liked the immediacy of reliving Luna and Regan’s childhood in the present. It gave the reader (and writer) a feeling of being there.

It was also a challenge to strike a balance between educating and entertaining readers. To honor Fred, and every person struggling with gender identity issues, it was imperative for me that the story transcend the whole “difference and diversity” theme. I believe Regan and Luna speak to the power of love between siblings.
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