Saturday, June 04, 2005

It Is The Wind by Ferida Wolf, illustrated by James Ransome

It Is The Wind by Ferida Wolff, illustrated by James Ransome (HarperCollins, 2005). What has caused the noise in the night? Is it the owl, the gate, the swing? What is it, really? In perfect poetry, a young boy in his farmhouse bedroom wonders, worries, and then sleeps reassured. Ages 4-up.

More Thoughts on It Is The Wind

Now I can sleep better, too! I do that. Awaken in the night to fret what might be just outside. Certainly, it must be an even bigger question to someone small, someone to whom the outside world is so huge.

It Is The Wind is a first-rate bedtime book for young minds, both anxious and creative. The text whispers, comforts, and tucks in. The art is as calming as it is evocative of the wonders of the night.

Coretta Scott King award-winner James Ransome's decision to illustrate the protagonist as an African American boy makes this one of precious few universal (in theme) picture books featuring a character from a community historically unrepresented in children's literature.

Cynsational News & Links

Thank you to lizgallagher (for her good wishes on my upcoming Vermont College guest-teaching gig) and Vaughn Zimmer (for her congrats on the reprint of Jingle Dancer (Morrow/HarperCollins, 2000) and paper release of Greg's Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo (Little Brown, 2005)).

Friday, June 03, 2005

The Meanest Girl by Debora Allie

The Meanest Girl by Debora Allie (Roaring Brook, 2005). It's not only that The World Trade Center is no longer in her view, though that's part of the mix. It's also that Alyssa's best friend is suddenly pals with her worst enemy, that someone has sent her a love note, that fathers leave, that mothers flirt, that embarrassing moments happen, and by the way, where does God fit into the whole mess anyway? A funny, tender debut novel, well-grounded in its sixth grade sensibility. Charming voice. Ages 8-up. Read chapter one (PDF file).

More Thoughts on The Meanest Girl

So much about this bravely-written story rang true...the competition for a best friend...Bree'd (a' la "Desperate Housewives") supermoms...the Italian American and deftly multicultural cast.

Alyssa tackles the larger questions of God, global responsibility, and who may or not be protecting us in uncertain times. For too long, it seemed the children's literary trade had handed over faith-related themes to the religious presses. Alyssa's perspective should resonate with many young readers.

I also enjoyed the teacher crush as I had something of a sixth-grade crush on my teacher, Mr. Rideout. Given, though, that he nicknamed me "Olive Oil" because of my then tall, slender build (hard to imagine, I know) and a portrait drawn by a kindergartener, I'm almost certain it wasn't mutual. (His loss, I'm sure).

Bonus points for the Trixie Belden references.

Note: Debora is signing tomorrow, June 4, at The Little Book House in New York. Write today to reserve a copy to be shipped to you (or, if you're in the area, go see the author in person!).

Cynsational News & Links

The June issue of features an updated on Robert's Snow, an interview with KidZone editor Anne Huizenga, information on putting together a show-stopping portfolio, and more!

CBC Showcase: Fiction on the Edge: recommended upper level YA books, including: Far From Xanadu and Keeping You A Secret, both by Julie Anne Peters; A Fast and Brutal Wing by Kathleen Jeffrie Johnson; Playing In Traffic by Gail Giles; and A Room On Lorelei Street by Mary E. Pearson. See also: Hot Off The Press: New Books.

History of Children's Book Illustration and the Role Women Played by Denise Ortakales.

Debbi Michiko Florence has updated her interviews with authors Sally Keehn and Toni Buzzeo.

Windows Into Their Lives: The Ninth Book of Junior Authors and Illustrators by Connie Rockman (H. W. Wilson, 2004) from CBC Magazine.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Vermont College Guest Faculty

I heard from department chair Kathi Appelt yesterday that the other guest faculty who'll be teaching with me at the Vermont College MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults in July will be Rita Williams-Garcia and Marc Aronson.

Norma Fox Mazer sent me a lovely welcoming note.


I mean, really. Wow!

Cynsational News & Links

Author Kathi Appelt and illustrator Joy Fisher Hein on Miss Lady Bird's Wildflowers: How A First Lady Changed America (HarperCollins, 2005).

Learning about Rita Williams-Garcia Compiled by: Susan Pais, Phyllis Brown, and Ann Gartner with Kay E. Vandergrift in Young Adult Literature.

Author Profile: Marc Aronson from

Writers of books for children and young adults in Australia are treated as second-class citizens. Bean counters take note: a kid hooked on reading today becomes a major book buyer tomorrow. By Sonya Hartnett from The Bulletin. Thanks to Frances Hill, author of The Bug Cemetery, illustrated by Vera Rosenberry (Henry Holt, 2002), for suggesting this link.

Kindling Words by John Cech, an online audio interview from NPR. "Today, Susan Raab brings us this interview, recorded earlier this year, with Alison James and Harold Underdown, the coordinators of the annual Kindling Words conference for those working in the field of children's book publishing."

Interview with Sandra McLeod Humphrey, author of several nonfiction books for teens, from the "Secrets Of Success" column on author Ellen Jackson's Web site.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

2005 Spur Awards from the Western Writers of America

The Western Writers of America have announced their 2005 Spur award winners in the children's/YA divisions:

Best Western Juvenile Fiction

Spur Winner: Fire In The Hole by Mary Cronk Farrell (Clarion Books, 2004).

Finalists: Worth by Alexandria LaFaye (Simon & Schuster, 2004); Nothing Here But Stones by Nancy Oswald (Henry Holt, 2004).

Best Western Juvenile Nonfiction

Spur Winner: Rattlesnake Mesa...Stories from a Native American Childhood by Ednah New Rider Weber (Lee & Low, 2004).

Finalists: Friday The Arapaho Boy by Marc Simmons (University of New Mexico Press, 2004); Hear That Train Whistle Blow by Milton Metzer (Random House, 2004).

Storyteller (picture book)*

Spur Winner: Apples To Oregon by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter (Simon & Schuster, 2004).

Finalists: Old Coyote by Nancy Wood, illustrated by Max Grafe (Candlewick Press, 2004), and Jim Thorpe's Bright Path by Joseph Bruchac, illustrated by S.D. Nelson (Lee & Low, 2004).

Note: Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu (Morrow/HarperCollins, 2000) was a finalist for the WWA Storyteller Award.

Cynsational News & Links

Fire In The Hole! from Through The Looking Glass Children's Book Review.

Who Wrote That? Featuring Alexandria LaFaye from Patricia M. Newman. Featured in California Kids! April 2004. See also A. LaFaye Discovers Her Worth by Roxyanne Young from (February 2005).

Yesterday, I was pleased to hear from my HarperCollins editor, Rosemary Brosnan, that both the library and trade editions of my picture book, Jingle Dancer, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu, (Morrow/Harper, 2000), are going into reprint (again!).

Congratulations to my pal, Sara Shacter, on the sale of her first book (a picture book to Red Rock Press)! Sara and I know each other from my Chicago days with SCBWI-Illinois.

Congrats also to Greg, who received his author copies of the paperback edition of Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo (Little Brown, 2005) yesterday. Very cool how the front of the cover features the seal signifying his Parents' Choice Gold Medal and the back features quotes from his sparkling reviews! The paperback will be simultaneously released with the hardcover of its companion book, Tofu And T.Rex, this July.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Author Interview: Mary E. Pearson on A Room On Lorelei Street

A Room On Lorelei Street by Mary E. Pearson (Henry Holt, 2005). Zoe, 17, has had it with her alcoholic mother and manipulative grandmother. She moves out of the house and rents a room on Lorelei Street in hopes of a new start. But ghosts, living and dead, swirl around Zoe, trying to tug her back, and it's hard making ends meet as a diner waitress. Zoe's new landlady, Opal, has a fresh, hopeful perspective, but ultimately, Zoe's uncertain future rests in her own hands. Ages 12-up. Highly recommended. (See more of my thoughts on this novel).

What was your inspiration for creating this book?

A book takes a long time to write, often years, so along the way a lot of inspirations intervene and help the story unfold, but first and foremost I heard the opening lines and got a sense of a character with heavy weight pressing down on her. From there I just listened.

I didn’t realize it as I was writing it, but looking back I can see that A Room on Lorelei Street is clearly a survival story. I had written a story about a girl who was being hit from all sides, over and over again, and you have to wonder if she will make it.

This story began on the heels of a rough period of my life. A serious illness in my family had brought my world to a grinding halt. For months I couldn’t write, but then when it finally seemed that things were going to be okay and I decided it was time to begin writing again, I had a new found sense of writing the truth at all costs.

I began A Room on Lorelei Street, wanting to explore life’s inequities and also the incredible iron bonds of family. But then during the course of writing the book, another dark veil fell, my mother was diagnosed as terminal and I had to set my story aside again as I cared for her in her last few months of life.

When I returned to the story, I was basically shell-shocked, much as Zoe was at that point of the story. What else could happen?

I think at that point, I decided Zoe had to make it–I needed her to make it–but honestly, I still wasn’t sure she would. This was not a story I planned; this was a story where I listened page by page and I came to know Zoe as well as I know anyone. Usually when you think of survival stories you think of wilderness stories, or medical stories, but there is a “falling through the cracks” kind of survival that happens everyday right beneath our noses, but gets little fanfare. Zoe’s story is such a survival story.

Other little inspirations also rubbed up against each other to make A Room on Lorelei Street happen . . .

As a small child I always passed a street on my way to school called “Lorelei Street.” I thought the name was so pretty–much prettier than my own “Bellflower”–and I always imagined what it would be like to live on Lorelei Street.

I am fascinated with names and what they mean. I came across “Zoe” and its meaning, “full of life,” and I imagined a character and why someone might name her that and what she might have to live up to. The name gave me a lot of insights into the father of the story, even though he isn’t actually even in the book.

In a similar vein, after I had begun writing A Room on Lorelei Street, I realized I didn’t know what “Lorelei”* meant so I looked it up. It was one of those goose bump writerly moments. The meaning hints of seduction and ruin–exactly what it would become for Zoe. It seemed like fate that I would choose that name.

As a writer I really enjoy exploring gray areas–right and wrong is often a matter of time and perspective. In A Room on Lorelei Street, we see many flawed characters, perhaps each with a similar goal, but with very different ways of achieving it. Most notably, Zoe and her grandmother seem at complete odds, and yet they both love Mama, and want the family to “survive,” but in different ways.

The story of course, is from Zoe’s perspective, but a few times I open a window where the reader can see the struggling or tender side of the grandmother too. Even the “sleazebag” has his own story, and Zoe at one point reflects on this, that he only wants to be “acknowledged.” The world is not black and white, so A Room on Lorelei Street gave me a lot of opportunities to explore the volume of the world’s gray.

I am amazed at the iron bonds of family. No matter how difficult or awful someone can be, when they are “blood” we never can quite cut the ties that hold us together. Family is always family. In A Room on Lorelei Street, Zoe had to learn how to reconcile this loyalty with the need for her own survival.

Becoming a parent means putting all of your needs, wants, and indulgences, in a backseat to your children’s. At least that is what I believe. Kids only get one chance to be kids. And yet from time to time, I have seen parents who refuse to grow up, accept responsibility, and they fritter away their own child’s precious growing up years. Because the parent refuses to grow up, they make their own child grow up too soon. It angers me, and I wanted to explore that in A Room on Lorelei Street. Similarly, I have seen parents who find their children to be an amusing hobby, but once the novelty wears off, the kids are on their own. That angers me, too. A little bit of outrage is always good fuel for a book.

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

Ha! Well, I think I already mentioned the major events. I wrote the first opening lines in December of 2000 and finished the rough draft in July of 2002. Of course, then it went out for critiques with my friends and the many revisions began. It was a long process, needless to say.

What were the challenges in bringing it to life?

My challenges were very much like any writer’s challenges. To keep going for one thing. There were lots of times I thought about quitting. Writing is hard work. There are no guarantees. No road map. And at times–especially in the middle–you feel utterly lost. The challenge is to keep going, even when you aren’t sure of the way.

E.B White said that “Writing itself is an act of faith, and nothing else” and that pretty much says it all. You keep writing because you believe in something. It’s a gauzy intangible drive that whispers to you, keep going, and you do in spite of your doubts and fears. And when you finally have a completed novel, it feels like nothing less than a miracle.

More On A Room On Lorelei Street

Visit Mary E. Pearson's blog, her Web site page on A Room On Lorelei Street (with prepublication chatter, award nominations, etc.), and check out the teacher's guide for the novel from Henry Holt (guide is PDF file). More Cynsational thoughts on A Room On Lorelei Street.

More Recent Interviews

Vivian Vande Velde on Companions of the Night (Harcourt, 1995) and Being Dead (Harcourt, 2001); Laura Ruby on Lily's Ghosts (HarperCollins, 2003); Anne Bustard on Buddy: The Story of Buddy Holly (Simon & Schuster, 2005); Kathi Appelt and Joy Fisher Hein on Miss Ladybird's Flowers: How A First Lady Changed America; Elisa Carbone on Last Dance On Holladay Street (Knopf, 2005); Greg Leitich Smith on Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo (Little Brown, 2003); and Holly Black on Tithe: A Modern Faeire Tale (Simon & Schuster, 2002).

Cynsational News & Links

Authors and Animals are a Winning Team by Francine Silverman from The Source for New and Emerging Authors. See more articles from the site on promotion, publication, tax deductions, queries, niches and more.

Kindling Words 2006 will be Jan. 26 to 29. Note: "Kindling Words is a gathering for published authors, illustrators, and working editors and agents in the field of children's books. To register, your publishing house must be recognized by the Children's Book Council." At the very least check out the gorgeous new KW Web site, designed by author/illustrator Janie Bynum.

Remember yesterday when I was talking about the auction at Brenda Novak's site so you could bid on Niki Burnham's books? One of the items available for bid (today only!) is a reading of a children's manuscript by editor Arthur Levine of Scholastic. Read a conversation with Arthur Levine from The Purple Crayon. Visit Arthur A. Levine Books.

Check out some Austin talents: illustrator Theresa Bayer, illustator Laura Logan, and author Janet Kaderli. Tell 'em Cyn sent you!

Monday, May 30, 2005

Bid on Books by Niki Burnham

YA romance author Niki Burnham (who also also writes for adults as Nicole Burnham) announces that autographed copies of her (grown-up) San Rimi series, featuring the diTalora family, and her debut YA novel, Royally Jacked (Simon & Schuster, 2004), are available for bids at Brenda Novak's site. Brenda is hosting an online auction, with 100% of proceeds going to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. See the "gift baskets" category by tomorrow, May 31.

note: Nic and I went to The University of Michigan Law School together where we were great pals, and we later stood up in each other's weddings. I'm so thrilled about all of her success!

Memorial Day

The Bug Cemetery by Frances Hill, illustrated by Vera Rosenberry (Henry Holt, 2002) is possibly the best cycle-of-life picture book for young readers, ages 4-up. Highly recommended.

Greg and I are still entertaining guests here. Today, we're heading to Zilker Botanical Garden.

Cynsational Links

"If Things Look Bad, Don't Fret. Take Action." by Steve Young, guest columnist for the L.A. Daily News. Not about writing per se but rather weathering storms. See Steve's blog.

"Rating Your Rejections (Or What The Heck Did That Editor Mean?)" by Linda Joy Singleton from author Verla Kay's Web site. See Linda Joy's blog.

notes: (1) Steve, Linda Joy, and Verla all are members of the childrens-writers list at; (2) Frances is married to Brian Yansky, YA author of My Road Trip To The Pretty Girl Capital of the World (Cricket Books, 2003). They live in Austin with a sweet dog named "Max" and a cranky kitty aptly named "Chaos."

Sunday, May 29, 2005

New Books

I'm busy entertaining my brother-in-law and his wife from Seattle. Yesterday, we went to The Oasis, and today we went to the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum. So, I only have one...

Cynsational Link

A Batch Of New Books For Kids by Janis Campbell from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Particular congrats go out to my pal, author Shutta Crum!

P.S. the book I'm reading right now is The Meanest Girl by Debora Allie (Roaring Brook, 2005).
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