Saturday, March 12, 2005

Looking For Uncle Louie On The Fourth Of July by Kathy Whitehead, illustrated by Pablo Torrecilla

Looking For Uncle Louie On The Fourth Of July by Kathy Whitehead, illustrated by Pablo Torrecilla (Boyds Mills Press, 2005). Joe and his parents are among those at the parade celebrating the Fourth of July. It's a wonderful, patriotic celebration, but where is Uncle Louie? And what would it be like to be part of the parade instead of just watching from the sidelines? Whitehead's tribute to Independence Day has a strong Texas twist, brought to life in Torrecilla's vivid illustrations. Ages 4-up.

My Thoughts

I've known Kathy for years through the Texas children's writing community. As former Regional Advisor for Brazos Valley SCBWI, she's more than done her part to foster the current crop of new authors. I'm so excited to hold her first book and look forward to the upcoming second one, Art From The Heart (G.P. Putnam). Congratulations, Kathy!

Cynsational News & Links

Thanks to illustrator Janee Trasler for the purrfect kitty mug and T-shirt!

"Rethinking Rejections" by Lisa Lawmaster Hess from the Institute of Children's Literature.

Vivian Vande Velde Photo Albums: take a virtual peek at the Central Missouri State University Children's Literature Festival March 6 to 8, 2005.

Author Barb Odanaka

Barb Odanaka, the author of Skateboard Mom, illustrated by JoAnn Adinolfi (Putnam, 2004), writes that she is moving from California to Dallas. She also says she hopes to meet my "four fat cats"* and plans to check out the skateboard park in Austin.

Barb is "a world traveler who's dived with sharks, communed with gorillas, and sipped snake blood for breakfast." In addition, she is the founder of the International Society of Skateboard Moms. "Barb and her band of skater moms have been featured on Good Morning America, CNN, The Early Show, NPR, USA Today, and the L.A. Times."

Her next book, Smash! Mash! Crash! There Goes The Trash (McElderry, 2006), will be illustrated by Will Hillenbrand.

Her site includes a sidelink to "The Book Biz," a collection of interviews and articles. Interview subjects include: editor Andrea Davis Pinkney at Houghton Mifflin; editor Wendy Lamb at Wendy Lamb Books/Random House; author Jack Gantos on writing the memoir; and editor Allyn Johnston at Harcourt.

Articles include: Tips For Beginners; Branding: Do Children's Authors Need A Niche?; Is Rhyme A Crime?: Rejection 101: Getting A Grip on the Gobbledygook; The Space Between The Words: Why Picture Book Authors Need To Let Illustrators Do Their Thing.

Welcome to Texas, Barb! We have plentry of writers, illustrators, teachers, librarians, booksellers, and readers eager to meet you!

*only three of the cats are plush; Leo ("Galileo") is petite.

Cynsational News

I had lunch this week with Austin children's writer Debbie Dunn, a soon-to-be published star. She's a student in the MFA program at Vermont College, where I'll be guest teaching this summer, and she was gracious enough to give me the inside scoop.

I also see from Alison's Journal that Lisa Wheeler's Austin SCBWI picture book workshop was a success (not that I'm surprised).

Because we're both Cynthias, I'm sometimes confused with Cynthia Lord. Visit her journal and Web site and learn more about Rules (Scholastic, 2006).

Cynsational Links

The March Children's Writing Update from Children's Book Insider is available. Highlights include: magazine market information and resources; poetry links; and a feature article on similies and metaphors.

Getting To Know Author Jeff Stone by Barb Odanaka from SCBWI. Jeff's debut book Tiger (Random House, 2005) is the first in a "seven-book, middle-grade kung fu action/adventure series called The Five Ancestors."

Interview With Barbara Odanaka: The Skateboard Mom from

My Fellow Americans: Barbara Odanaka: Skateboard Mom from NPR. An audio interview. Note: I was only able to connect to about half of it, but maybe you'll have better luck.

Safe, Edgy, Hopeful; What's That Mean? from The YA Novel And Me, an online journal from Gail Giles; see the March 11, 2005 entry. An analysis of YA buzz words.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Sendak v. dePaolo

Reading Reptile presents the match of the century: animated wrestling between illustration giants Maurice Sendak and Tomie dePaola. Click here for the big fight.

Reading Reptile is an independent bookstore in my hometown of Kansas City. Explains a lot, doesn't it?

In My Grandmother's House: Award-Winning Authors Tell Stories About Their Grandmothers, edited and illustrated by Bonnie Christensen

In My Grandmother's House: Award-Winning Authors Tell Stories About Their Grandmothers, edited and illustrated by Bonnie Christensen (Harper, 2003). A collection of short stories by children's authors about their own grandmothers. Contributing authors included: Joan Abelove; Alma Flor Ada, Bonnie Christensen; Beverly Cleary; Pat Cummings; Jean Craighead George; Minfong Ho; Ji-li Jang; Gail Carson Levine; Beverly Naidoo; Cynthia Leitich Smith; and Diane Stanley. Ages 8-up. NYPL Books For The Teenage.

My Thoughts

My contribution to the anthology, titled "The Naked Truth" was probably the most difficult story I ever had to write. I admire folks who do memoir, but I felt awkward reflecting myself and my real-life grandma(s).

I suspect it was in some ways a more interpersonally difficult assignment for me than some of the other authors because both of my grandmothers were (and still are) living. I worried about which grandmother to feature. I worried about how they'd both feel. I worried about how the whole thing would go over at their local small-town beauty parlors.

In the end, my grandma Dorothy just seemed more comfortable talking about her life than my grandma Melba, which I respected. So, selecting a subject became easier. That said, it still wasn't biography, so much as fiction inspired by real life.

The plot centers around a nude painting (by my grandfather, an artist) in her basement and the day I figured out "the naked lady" was--gasp--grandma.

What it's about, though, is how we tend to see people as frozen at one stage of their life without remembering all that has happened before and will happen since.

The really neat thing was that I flew to Kansas City to do the research, and my grandma and I stayed awake all night talking about everything under Halloween's full moon. It's a memory I'll always treasure, just as I do her.

More globally, it was an honor to have my story published in such great company, Bonnie did an amazing job with her art, and the verdict of the beauty parlor was thumbs-up!

More Praise For In My Grandmother's House

Voya: "The most entertaining contributions are Cynthia Leitch Smith's The Naked Truth, in which a granddaughter discovers that the nude figure painted in the basement is her grandmother, and Gail Carson Levine's A Visit to Grandma's, as a granddaughter speaks out about her grandmother and her great aunts' disrespect of her mother."

School Library Journal: "An old painting in the basement allows Cynthia Leitich Smith to see her grandmother for who she really is, and to see herself in a new light as well."

Booklist: "A fine collection that will encourage teens to reflect on their own families and recognize the individuals behind the family roles."

Cynsational Links

An Interview with Beverly Cleary by Miriam Drennan from BookPage in August 1999. Focus is on the release of Ramona's World.

Author Profile Jean Craighead George: author profile and interview from

Let It Be Hope by Kristen D. Randle, following an introduction by editor Chris Crowe, from Kristen's Web site. Originally published in the March 2001 issue of the English Journal. Kristin's novels include Breaking Rank (Harper, 1999), which I adored. Also check out her Quilt Collection.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Writing For Young Adults Versus Adults

By Laura Ruby
Reproduced from an online message board with permission.

Word count, language choice, or age of protagonist is what separates YA from adult (and of course there's some blurring — The Curious Incident of the Dog in Nighttime, Like the Red Panda, A Northern Light, even Ann Brashares' books to a certain extent).

What separates an adult novel from a YA is perspective. Teens, even smart, sophisticated teens, have that weird teen tunnel vision. Everything is new to them. Impulse control is faulty. They can't reason out probable consequences to their actions. They might love their parents but don't like to think of themselves as being "parented."

Because of these things, fiction written with a teen audience in mind is often more immediate. Adults are usually relegated to the background, and even if they're not, they're almost never given a POV of their own; everything is filtered through the teens' limited perspective.

In adult fiction, even if it has a child or a teen narrator, usually employs a retrospective voice, a sense that the story is being told after the fact. (This is easier if you're using past tense or 3rd person, but it can be done with present tense 1st person as well). Or, as in the case of Curious Incident, the troubled teen narrator himself can't put all the pieces of the story together, but the characters around him do that for the reader, giving us a larger picture of the world than the narrator is able to.

And then there's the adults. In YA fiction, they sort of pop in and out, dancing around the edges of the story. In adult fiction, you can give them more room. What they have to say is more interesting.

Note: Laura Ruby writes for children, teenagers, and adults. She is the author of Lily's Ghost (Harper, 2003), a 2004 Edgar Award Nominee, 2003 Parent's Choice silver medalist, and one of the Chicago Public Library's Best of the Best. She also has several additional projects under contract.

Cynsational Links

Teacher's Guides and Activities for Children's Books from author Hope Vestergaard. Top-notch guides to books by such authors as Lisa Wheeler, Shutta Crum, Carolyn Crimi, and more! Highly recommended to teachers, parents, reading groups, and authors/publishers looking for someone to design a guide for them!

Publishers Release U.S. and British Cover Art for Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince from Wizard News. Compare and contrast the American edition by Mary GrandPre, the British children's edition by Jason Cockcroft, and the British adult edition, which featuers a photograph by Michael Wildsmith. Learn about plans for the $60 Scholastic special edition. Note: Mary also illustrated The Sea Chest by Toni Buzzeo (Dial, 2002).

Young Writer Tips: What Goes Into A Young Writer's Idea File? from author Marianne Mitchell. Marianne is the author of several books for young readers, including Firebug, a middle grade mystery set in Sedona (see teacher guide); Finding Zola, another one set near Tucson (see teacher guide), and, for younger readers, Gullywasher Gulch (see teacher guide), among others. Her publishers include Boyds Mills and Henry Holt.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

I Wish I'd Written That

Have you ever set down a book and thought, I wish I'd written that myself?

It's not the kind of thing that happens often. After all, there are so many books that are successful, but don't necessarily connect with my reader within. So many that I enjoy, but don't speak so directly to my soul. Or perhaps it's a wonderful, successful title that does tranform me, but it's not such a precise reflection of my own sensibilities.

So for what it's worth, I wish I'd written:

picture books

The Moon Came Down On Milk Street by Jean Gralley (Henry Holt, 2004);

What A Truly Cool World by Julius Lester, illustrated by Joe Cepeda (Scholastic, 1999);


Burger Wuss by M.T. Anderson (Candlewick, 1999);

Unexpected Development by Marlene Perez (Roaring Brook, 2004);

Locked Inside by Nancy Werlin (Delacorte, 2000);

The Witch Of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Spear (1958).

But perhaps I'm wrong. Maybe it's better than I can enjoy them as the reader instead of the writer. That's such an individual, important relationship. So, to those authors who wrote "my" books, let me just say, thank you.

Cynsational Links

An Interview With Cynthia Leitich Smith by Cheryl Coon from Books To Grow With (PDF file). July 2004 (but I just found it online).

An Interview With Cheryl Willis Hudson, editorial director, Just Us Books from children's illustrators. "Just Us Books, Inc. is an independent press that publishes Black-interest books for young people."

An Interview With David Saylor, vice president and creative director, Scholastic Book Group from children's illustrators. March 2005: features include an interview with author Terry Davis, an article on the Canadian publishing scene, and a look at the Appalachian Authors Guild.

Balkin Buddies

Balkin Buddies is a service offering authors and artists for speaking engagements in school, libraries, and at conferences.

The client list is top notch and includes such talents as Avi, Jennifer Armstrong, Joseph Bruchac, Margery Cuyler, Alex Flinn, Bobbi Katz, M.E. Kerr, Mary Lankford, Anna Myers, Kevin O'Malley, Elaine Scott, Diane Stanley, and Terry Trueman (among others).

Listings are provided: by state; by grade level; and by authors visiting certain areas.

Plus, the site also provides an answer to the ever-popular question: which imprint or publisher is owned by which publishing house?

Cynsational Links

Book Talk With Joseph Bruchac from Lee & Low Books on Native American children's literature.

Navigating The Neighborhood by Jennifer Armstrong from the Riverbank Review (a discussion about fictional and real-life settings for children). See also her article on Search and Research. Her "under redesign" site is clever and well worth a look.

Using Biography And Other Children's Literature In The Classroom: A Chat With Diane Stanley from the International Reading Association.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Night Wonders by Jane Peddicord

Night Wonders by Jane Peddicord (Charlesbridge, 2005). An introduction to space juxtaposing poetry against non-fiction with a generous glossary and additional resources. Ages 4-up.

Jane Peddicord is from Austin; this is her first book.

Jane is one of Charlesbridge's latest wave of fabulous new authors (who also include another Austinite, Dianna Hutts Aston and more with books under contract). I recently heard editor Judy O'Malley speak at an Austin SCBWI conference and was impressed by her plans for their list.

Note: fans of Night Wonders should also check out the poetic/science books of another Austin-area author, Jerry Wermund.

Cynsational News

Congratulations to author Joseph Bruchac, winner of the 2005 Virginia Hamilton Literary Award "for his efforts in preserving Native traditions and bringing to the foreground issues and concerns that are important to contemporary Native cultures. "

Thanks to author Esther Hershenhorn for telling teachers and writers about my blog and site. Esther's books include There Goes Lowell's Party (Holiday House), Chicken Soup By Heart (Simon & Schuster), Fancy That (Holiday House), and The Confe$$ions And $ecret$ Of Howard J. Fingerhut (Holiday House). See Meet The Pros: Esther Hershenhorn from SCBWI France, and see the search engine at my site for another interview and teacher resources.

Cynsational Link

Karen Hesse Jumps Into History With Both Feet by Karen Magnuson Beil. See also the Karen Hesse teacher resource file.

Search For ALAN Treasurer

The Executive Board of the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of NCTE invites applications for the position of ALAN Treasurer. This is a new three-year, appointed position, with a possibility of reappointment for additional years. The new treasurer will assume office on or about June 1, 2005.

Position Description: The ALAN Treasurer keeps all of the financial records of the Assembly, pays bills, deposits dues and receipts, files required tax reports/forms, and compiles an annual financial report for the ALAN Executive Board to be presented at its November board meeting during the NCTE Convention. The ALAN Treasurer also keeps financial records for the ALAN Foundation and the Gallo Grants, handles their receipts and disbursements, and files an annual report to the Board on Foundation finances. A stipend of $2,000 per year will be paid to the Treasurer.

Qualifications: The ALAN Treasurer must be a member of ALAN and of NCTE while in office, should have basic bookkeeping experience, and must be skilled at interacting with NCTE and ALAN officers and employees on matters of financial interest to ALAN (including payment for publication and mailing of The ALAN Review, collection and disbursement of dues, and coordination with the ALAN Membership Secretary on collection and posting of dues.) The ALAN Treasurer will be required either to file the Assembly's tax report forms or arrange for the preparation of such forms. Previous professional association financial experience desirable, but not required. The Treasurer is a voting member of the ALAN Executive Board.

Interested applicants should e-mail an application packet that includes 1) a letter of interest, 2) a current vita (highlighting financial expertise and previous affiliation with ALAN), and 3) names and e-mail addresses of two references to: Don Gallo, Chair, ALAN Treasurer Search Committee.

Applications must be received by April 15, 2005. Questions regarding the position may be directed to the current ALAN Executive Secretary, Gary Salvner, or the current ALAN Treasurer, Bill Subick.

Cynsational Link

Donald R. Gallo from Teens@Random.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Humor In Young Adult Literature

Humor In Young Adult Literature: A Time To Laugh by Walter Hogan (Scarecrow, 2005). A professional resource book that features chapters on YA humor with regard to: family; friends; bullies; authorities and adversaries; what's wrong with me?; could this be love?; the ironic perspective; and coming of age: who am I, and what am I going to do about it?

I was just talking about Joan Bauer's books, which include a great deal of humor (plus related resource links). And of course I'm married to Greg Leitich Smith, a 'tweener comedy writer. Even my own books, Rain Is Not My Indian Name (Harper, 2001) and Indian Shoes (Harper, 2002), have their share of light moments as does my forthcoming YA gothic fantasy novel. So, I was interested to read Walter's book and get more of an overview.

Some of my favorite YA humor titles he mentions are: Burger Wuss (Candlewick, 1999) and Thirsty (Candlewick, 1997) by M.T. Anderson; Backwater (Putnam, 1999) and Hope Was Here (Putnam, 2000) by Joan Bauer; Fat Kid Rules The World by K.L. Going (Putnam, 2003); Geography Club by Brent Hartinger (HarperTempest, 2003); Goose Chase by Patrice Kindl (Houghton Mifflin, 2001); Confess-O-Rama by Ron Koertge (Orchard, 1996); Son Of The Mob by Gordon Korman (Hyperion, 2002); Dunk by David Lubar (Clarion, 2002)(read the first chapter); Holes by Louis Sachar (FSG, 1998); How I Spent My Last Night On Earth by Todd Strasser (Simon & Schuster, 1998), and Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger (Simon & Schuster, 1999).

Cynsational News & Links

Interviews with K.L. Going, Brent Hartinger, David Lubar, and Ellen Wittlinger are available on my Web site (use the search engine provided). See also Multicultural Humor, Seriously.

Trivia: (1) I'll be a guest faculty member at Vermont College, which offers an MFA program in writing for children and YAs, this summer, and Toby Anderson and Ron Koertge also teach there. (2) David Lubar is the most fun person to play with at a teacher/librarian conference. (3) K.L. Going used to be my agent's assistant. She's adorable and brilliant! (4) Louis Sachar lives in Austin. I've only met him once, though, at the Texas Book Festival. He was there with his daughter and very nice!

I received a note last week, telling me about the joy and excitement my picture book, Jingle Dancer (Morrow/Harper, 2000), has brought to Native children in Washington State. To all of them, I say, keep reading, dancing, and believing in yourselves!

Finally, books I'm watching for lately include: Hot Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Being Young and Latino in the United States, selected by Lori Marie Carlson (Henry Holt, 2005)(by the best-selling anthologist of Cool Salsa). Note: I have a short story coming out in another of Lori's anthologies, Moccasin Thunder: American Indian Stories for Today (Harper, 2005).

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Niche Marketing Children's and YA Books

Much like author Esme Raji Codell, my approach to promotion has been a global one, doing what I can to promote the body of children's and YA literary trade books as a whole.*

I do so via my Web site and blogs, when I speak to the media and in-person audiences, and as part of the children's/YA community.

It's impossible to say what particular effort generates what percentage of sales/readership/name recognition, so I've simply taken the advice of one of my early mentors, author Jane Kurtz, who told me to try to do at least one thing a week--however small--in support of the books (in my case, in support of the big picture--all books) and to think of the process as spreading seeds. You never know which ones will grow proud and strong.

As for my publishers, I'm pleased with their efforts. HarperCollins has been most generous in sponsoring me at state and national conferences, providing promotional pieces, and they're making efforts to expand their online marketing. I'm new to Candlewick Press, but the house has a lovely reputation in this area.

That said, I know that certain expectations come with being an author and word-spreading seems to be near the top of the list. So, I do have to focus specifically on promoting my own work, too.

For me, so far the most effective marketing seems to be niche marketing, and therefore, I focus on those communities that might have an interest in me or my work.

In other words: Who Am I, and Who Cares? (They might buy/read my books!) What Are My Books About, and Who Cares? (They might, too!).

Everyone has a potential promotional hit list for their book(s)/body of work; in case it helps, here's a very abbreviated version of mine:

Author Cynthia Leitich Smith
audiences: picture book through young adult
qualities: formerly in journalism/law; lived in KS, MO, MI, IL, TX, OK;
note: sent press kit to alumni magazines, all relevant (parenting, legal, ethnic, mainstream) hometown (past and present) newspapers and magazines; made sure books were entered in all regional contests for which I was eligible; added "Texas author" stickers to postcards sent in Texas; took out ads in the TLA Journal.

Jingle Dancer, Rain Is Not My Indian Name, and Indian Shoes
topics: Native Americans (specifically contemporary); interracial families; intergenerational relationships
settings: mid-to-southwest
media time hooks: grandparent's day; Native American heritage month
note: sent press kit to Native media and mainstream media in mid-to-southwest for Grandparent's Day and Native American Heritage Month**
related: sent postcards to Native American, mid-to-southwest and natural history museum bookstores; added "set in Kansas," "set in Oklahoma," "set in Chicago/Illinois" stickers to cards (promoting relevant books) sent to those states; wrote articles on contemporary Native children's/YA and interracial family fiction for various magazines

You must also continue to promote your backlist. It's a commitment for the life of the book. Yes, you do want to push that front-list book, but you should also try to make sure it connects with young readers for years to come.

As someone who promotes other authors and illustrators online, I suggest having your author site up and running at least six months prior to the release of the ARCs or F&Gs and making sure the site includes: the basic information, an-at-least-monthly updated feature, and something special (you're the author/illustrator; your site should offer visitors a more personal experience than the publishers'). Also, keep it fresh; update with new and changing information.

That said, it's never too late. You can't go back in time, but you can jump in now!

This may seem overwhelming, but remember, it can be done on a one-task-a-week basis, particularly if you start early and keep up with it. What works for one person might not for another, but be willing to try and see. Share information. Support one another. You can do it!

As an author, you're an ambassador for children's/YA literature and literacy! Spread the word that good books matter!

Go, promote, sell! Yay!

*which is not to say I haven't at times also promoted graphic novels, mass market books, and professional resource titles.
**send early to magazines, up to six months early.

note: this blog entry is adapted from my recent post on Children's Writing Biz, which is moderated by author Anastasia Suen.

Cynsational Links

The Art of the Matter: Promotion for Illustrators by author/illustrator Katie Davis.

bjliterary's journal: a live journal from agent Barry Goldblatt; see his recent post on author market. See also Q's & A's with an agent by Barry Goldblatt.

Wide-Eyed and Curious: Working with Young Children in Groups by author Shutta Crum.
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