Saturday, June 03, 2006

Cynsational News & Links

Bookseller Chick: "the alter-ego of a mild-mannered bookseller, Bookseller Chick (known to those who love and hate her as BS Chick) fights for literacy, freedom, originality, and a paycheck in the corporate confines of a retail book chain."

Congratuations to Dianna Hutts Aston (author interview) on the publication of Mama Inside, Mama Outside, illustrated by Susan Gaber (Henry Holt, 2006). School Library Journal calls it "irresistible."

My husband, author Greg Leitich Smith, and I will be speaking on "The Kid In You: Writing for the Children's and Young Adult Literary Trade Book Market" from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. June 24 at the Writers' League of Texas Agents and Editors Conference. In addition, Kathi Appelt (author interview), Anne Bustard (author interview), Chris Barton, and moderator Mark G. Mitchell (author interview) will offer a panel on "Breaking into the Children's Book Market" at 11 a.m. that same day.

Interview with Children's Fantasy Author Laura Williams McCaffrey from Debbi Michiko Florence. Laura is the author of Alia Waking (Clarion, 2003) and Water Shaper (Clarion, 2006). Learn more about Laura.

Summer Bites: "Young Adult Paranormal Writers Dish about Everything." Six authors celebrate light-hearted, original paperback gothic fantasy for teens. Learn more about Serena Robar, Marianne Mancusi, Gena Showalter, MaryJanice Davidson and Anthony Alongi, PC and Kristen Cast, and Bev Rosenbaum.

Thanks to fellow bloggers who've recently mentioned and/or featured links to Cynsations: Book Moot and A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy to my interview with author Michelle Lord on Little Sap and Monsieur Rodin, illustrated by Felicia Hoshimo (Lee & Low, 2006); ... h20boro lib blog from the Waterboro Public Library (ME) recommending Cynsations; Jen Robinson's Book Page on Sue Corbett's 12 Again (Dutton, 2002) winning the California Young Readers Medal (author interview); Gotta Book with more praise for Cynsations; a_suen on my interview with Ellen Howard; Kat's Eye to my interview with Stephenie Meyer; pbwriter to my article on children's and YA literary agents; and to Chicken Spaghetti to my interview with Marina Budhos.

The June giveaway at YA Books Central is Secrets of My Hollywood Life by Jen Calonita (Little Brown, 2006).

Meet Jeff Newman, author-illustrator of Hippo! No, Rhino (Little Brown, 2006), from BookPage.

Rising Star Julie Anne Peters from The Bulletin of the Center of Children's Books. See a Cynsations interview with Julie. See also "Let Me Tell You 'Bout My Best Friend:" A Father and Son Dozen, selected by Cindy Welch from the Bulletin.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Publicist Interview: Susan Salzman Raab

Susan Salzman Raab is a widely respected expert in children's book promotion. Twenty years ago, she founded Raab Associates, then the only agency dedicated to that goal. Today, Raab Associates Inc. provides "marketing, consulting, and publicity for children's and parenting books and children's specialty products."

Susan is the Marketing Advisor to SCBWI National and the author of the "To Market" column in its bi-monthly newsletter. She is a radio correspondent for "Recess! Radio," which is syndicated nationally, and she is the author of An Author's Guide to Children's Book Promotion (Two Lives Publishing, 2005). Her company also hosts ReviewersChecklist.com, a search database of new and forthcoming books for children, teens and parents from publishers across the industry. Learn more about Susan.

Congratulations on the twentieth anniversary of Raab Associates! Your experience in advertising, as a book-buyer for an independent bookstore, and in publicity and marketing for such companies as Dell, Scholastic, and Bantam certainly prepared you for the transition to founder of your own agency. But what inspired you to make the jump to your own shop?

I decided to start the agency because I was pregnant with my oldest son, and I knew I wanted to work part-time from home so I could be with him. At the time, I was working as an account executive for a large ad agency in Philadelphia, and I missed being part of the New York publishing world. I had a wonderful boss who--when I told her I wanted to work from home and told her how much I missed working with children's books--recommended I try doing both. I've always been grateful to her for that and for being so supportive.

How has Raab Associates grown over the years? What new directions do you anticipate?

Well, my initial plan, which was to work three-to-four hours a day, take long weekends and have beach vacations never did seem to happen. Once I started getting projects, the business grew, and I needed staff and to expand our systems to manage the load. Since returning to the New York area, we've had substantial growth both in the size of the staff and in the range of services we provide. I think that's because companies want a broader range of marketing services and so do individual authors and illustrators.

We've also launched ReviewersChecklist.com, which required coming up with new ways to present and promote publisher data online and has involved working with a broad range of contacts, including 175 publishers, as well as authors, illustrators, educators, librarians and media contacts. We've met many new people and have been evolving new marketing techniques for reaching them.

New directions have involved corporate consulting and working with authors and illustrators on strategic career planning, and I think there's a lot more that can be done in those areas. We also have a lot of plans for Reviewers Checklist.

Why children's books specifically? What fueled your passion to support books for young readers?

It's interesting because working in children's books was not at all trendy when I started in the business. In fact, at Dell, all my predecessors had used the job as a springboard to get to "real jobs" in adult books. I stayed because I loved the field and because I felt children's books should get more attention--plus I was working with the best authors! That list included Judy Blume (author interview), Beverly Cleary, Madeleine L'Engle, Lloyd Alexander, Paula Danziger, Richard Peck, Jane Yolen (author interview)--literally a hundred authors whose work I adored. I also thought they were much nicer than the adult authors my counterparts were working with, and I saw the commitment it took to try to get kids excited about reading.

The other thing that intrigued me was that it was much more challenging to get attention for kid's books--you couldn't depend on the author's name being a household word, or the support of a big marketing budget. You had to find ways of personally connecting with people who cared about kids and create mutually beneficial opportunities. Sounds exhausting probably, but I loved it--and still do.

The attention that children's books have gotten in recent years has made the marketing easier in some areas, but it can still be quite tough in others.

You’ve worked with many publishers and companies--Annick Press, Bloomsbury Books, Golden Books, Kane Miller, Kids Can Press, Henry Holt, National Geographic, Penguin, Pleasant Company, and Simon & Schuster, just to name a few. What kinds of services do you provide to them?

We've done product launches, marketing consulting, market surveys, developed and designed websites, run focus groups, produced teacher's guides, launched product lines and handled author tours and publicity campaigns. Companies have also hired us to consult with authors and work with staff on presentations and media preparation.

Do you handle individual clients as well? If so, what services are provided to these authors? What should an author consider in hiring a publicist to promote his or her work?

We work with a lot of authors at all stages of their career. We've worked on first books to help establish an author in the marketplace, and have been hired by established authors and illustrators who want to market at a new level. The work varies depending on the type of book, the author or illustrator's background and objectives, the involvement of the publisher, the potential we see in the market, the budget and the time frame. We have some clients who we've worked with for many years and others who hire us to handle a particular book. We've provided many of the same services to authors and illustrators that we do to corporations.

I think the most important thing to consider when hiring a publicist, or any marketing professional, is to find someone who is honest with you about what's viable for your book, clear about the work they'll do, and who cares about the authors they take on. It's also helpful to work with someone who can educate you about the role you can play in the process because campaigns work best when they’re done synergistically.

What information and assistance do you provide to individual authors and/or illustrators, including perhaps those who aren't clients per se?

We offer a series of telecourses that have been developed in response to author/illustrator requests for more specific information on the market. Those are listed at our website, www.raabassociates.com. We often adapt these to the specific needs of an author or group.

You're the author of An Author's Guide To Children's Book Promotion, Ninth Edition (Two Lives Publishing, 2005). Could you give us a sense of what this book offers? Why is it a must-buy for the author serious about building a publishing career?

The Author's Guide is meant to serve as a handbook for people who want an overview of the children's book field. This is a quirky business because we need to appeal to parents, teachers, librarians, booksellers as well as kids themselves, so the outreach needs to happen on many levels and still be part of an overall strategy. There are lots of good books on the market now that explain various aspects of the business, including Harold Underdown’s Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Children's Books (Alpha, 2004) and lots of information out on the web that can help as well.

Much of your energy is directed to media relations. Could you tell us about Reviewers Checklist? How does it work? What's great about it?

The idea for Reviewers Checklist came from many conversations with reporters who wanted to cover a variety of children's books, but found it tough to keep track of current contacts at the publishing houses. We often tried to help when questions came up about particular topics by referring them to individuals we knew and asking to have books sent, even if the source was not always a publisher we were currently working with. Sometimes it helped complete a story with books we had sent, and other times it was just to try to help the reporter get the story done. It finally occurred to me that it would be great to provide a source that would offer one-stop-shopping for the media to put through their requests and that was the start of Reviewers Checklist.

The site, which is accessible to everyone, is an online search database that houses publisher catalog data. We currently have 175 publishers participating, including all the major houses and there are between 9,000-9,500 titles for children, teens and families.

The site provides details on books nine months in advance of the publication date, which makes it a unique information source. There’s no charge for membership, and while membership is not required to search on the site, there are additional features available to those who do sign up.

We've been delighted to find that many people in the industry have registered – reviewers in all media categories, librarians, educators, booksellers, authors, illustrators, agents, and even some people who license for television and other media. Anyone visiting it can search new and forthcoming titles (including books coming out the following season), get information on authors, illustrators and publishers when that's been provided, and keep track of searches they've done. Media contacts, who must first be vetted into the system, get special privileges that allow them to make review copy requests directly through the system to publishers. They can also use the system to send back clips or notification of their stories or segments.

We have had a very enthusiastic response to Reviewers Checklist from people across the industry as a reference tool and as a media tool. It's also been used to announce industry news and to post special Calls for Information for survey topics. We have lots of plans for it, including in the short-term moving the system to a new platform to make it much faster and more flexible.

What noteworthy changes in children's book promotion have you seen over the years? What are your predictions for the future?

The biggest changes have been that children's books are now are seen as having much more potential, so there are some very large budgets for a select number of books. There are more books and the business is more competitive. There are also a lot more self-published books and a lot of small, specialty publishers. Authors and illustrators have also become a lot more proactive in marketing their books, which I think is a good and necessary change because publishers have grown in size, and it's tough to get to the top of the lists.

The Internet has also had a tremendous impact on marketing. Author and illustrator websites, online stores, review sites, blogs, email marketing, and other vehicles provide new ways of creating excitement about new books and making more personal connections with consumers. I think the Internet will be increasingly important along with other electronic messaging. I also think that there will be more direct interaction with consumers.

As long as we're talking about books, are there any great new titles you'd like to highlight?

We're working on a number of very interesting novels right now, including My Childhood Under Fire: A Sarajevo Diary by Nadja Haglilbegovich (Kids Can, 2006)(excerpt), Strange Happenings: Five Tales of Transformation by Avi (Harcourt, 2006), Trigger (Bloomsbury, 2006), which is by Susan Vaught and about teen suicide, Stay With Me by Garret Freymann-Weyr (Houghton Mifflin, 2006), and Anatopsis by first-time author Chris Abouzeid (Dutton, 2006). There's also a new cookbook and fairytale collection, entitled Fairytale Feasts, which is by Jane Yolen, and a political spoof, Wilky: The White House Cockroach, by syndicated cartoonist Howie Schneider (Putnam, 2006). Others for young children are Robie Harris’s It's Not the Stork!: A Book About Girls, Boys, Babies, Bodies, Families, and Friends (Candlewick, 2006), which was previewed in a New York Times feature article; Ed Young’s family story My Mei Mei (Philomel, 2006)(author-illustrator interview); a Greek myths series by I Spy Author Jean Marzollo, and there’s Susan Goldman Rubin’s forthcoming biography of Andy Warhol – plus great books from National Geographic, Kane Miller and Kids Can Press.

Is there anything you'd like to add?

Just that children need books now more than ever to help them understand the larger world, and that we need to ensure they have access to excellent books in all genres in bookstores, libraries, schools and homes.

Cynsational Notes

See also school visits and other events as well as promotion resources.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Winners of the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature Named

The Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature Committee of the Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association has announced the winner and honor books of 2006. These awards honor and recognize individual works published in 2004 and 2005 about Asian/Pacific Americans and their heritages based on literary and artistic merit.

Young adult title winner: Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata (Antheneum, 2004)(author interview)(excerpt). The honor books were: Project Mulberry by Linda Sue Park (Clarion, 2005)(author interview); Shanghai Messenger by Andrea Cheng (Lee & Low, 2005).

Young readers illustration only: The Firekeeper's Son by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Julie Downing (Clarion, 2004). The honor books were Bread Song by Frederick Lipp, illustrated by Jason Gaillard (Mondo, 2004); Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds by Paula Yoo, illustrated by Dom Lee (Lee & Low, 2005)(excerpt).

The Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association is an affiliate of the American Library Association (ALA).

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Cynsational News & Links

Big thanks to author Tanya Lee Stone (author interview) for highlighting my fall 2006 release Santa Knows (Dutton), which is co-authored by Greg Leitich Smith and illustrated by Steve Bjorkman.

Cheers to Cynsations LJ reader Tammi Sauer (Tammi's LJ) on her thank-you comment about my linking to the ICL article "How to Write a Picture Book an Editor Will Love" by Gwendolyn Hooks, which featured Tammi's picture book Cowboy Camp (Sterling, 2005).

Cowboy Camp also was a finalist for the 2006 Oklahoma Book Award in Children's/YA. The other finalists were: Clabbernappers by Len Bailey (Starscape/Tor, 2005); Dancing with Elvis by Lynda Stephenson (Eerdmans, 2005); Czar of Alaska: The Cross of Charlemagne by Richard Trout (Pelican, 2005); and Pick of the Litter by Bill Wallace (Holiday House, 2005). The winner was Assassin by Anna Myers (Walker, 2005)(excerpt)(author interview). See descriptions of the finalists. See all the winners. Cyn Note: two of my books have been finalists for the OBA--Jingle Dancer, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu (HarperCollins/Morrow, 2000)(feature illustration) and Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001).

Esmé Raji Codell (author interview), bestselling author of Sahara Special (Hyperion, 2003) and Educating Esmé: Diary of a Teacher's First Year (Algonquin, 2001) and one of the country’s foremost experts on children’s literature, is launching a unique blog with a special mission: getting America to read a book a day to its children. A long-time maverick in the field of literacy and education, Codell runs one of the most highly trafficked independent children’s literature websites on the Internet and for the past two years has operated an offbeat literary salon housed in a Chicago storefront. The blog, http://planetesme.blogspot.com, is scheduled to launch on June 1st, and aspires to make everyone a children’s book expert one day at a time through pithy reviews and a pithier literary advice column. "Children's trade books are our best hope for creating equal education in our country," Codell explains. "We need to create informed consumers in order to unleash this tremendous potential in the bindings." Cyn Note: Esmé has my vote for queen O the world.

Interview With Ally Carter by Liz B. at Pop Goes the Library: Using Pop Culture to Make Libraries Better. Ally is the author of Cheating at Solitaire (Berkley, 2005) and I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You (Hyperion, 2006). See more from Liz B at A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy.

South Asian Stories to Tell by Pooja Makhijani, a guest column at Chicken Spaghetti: Books for Children and the Rest of Us, too. Pooja discusses Mixed Messages, a literary festival sponsored by the South Asian Woman's Creative Collective.

Illustrator Interview: Joe Morse on Casey at the Bat

Casey at the Bat by Ernest L. Thayer, illustrated by Joe Morse (Kids Can Press/KCP Poetry, 2006). From the catalog copy: "...about a proud and mighty slugger who strikes out during the big game." "Illustrator Joe Morse sets the poem on gritty urban streets with a multiracial cast of characters. It’s a startlingly fresh approach that not only revives the poem for a new generation, but also brings it new richness and depth." Cyn Note: an excellent picture book for YA and younger readers.

From Casey at the Bat: Joe Morse's art is "exhibited in numerous private and public collections in North America and has won many international honors..." He lives in Toronto.

Congratulations on the publication of Casey at the Bat! Though the poem has been illustrated before, wow! This version is fresh and fierce. I was blown away. What was your initial inspiration for creating this book?

Thank you for the opportunity to talk about the book. Casey is part of the [KCP] "Visions in Poetry" series and each book is an illustrated interpretation of a classic poem. I was given incredible freedom from the number of pages to the direction of the narrative. Each time I read Casey at the Bat, I was struck by how relevant this 1888 poem had become.

The cartoon characters of Thayer's creation were now playing in a contemporary game where 1/4 of a billion dollars for a ten-year contract is no joke.

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

The book from meeting 1 to delivery of twenty-two spreads was sixteen months. Fourteen months for concept and two months for execution of final art. I completed all the art in oil paint first (the blue/black color). I wear a gas mask and work in a ventilated shed because of the toxic materials I use. I then painted all the color areas to ensure consistency.

I was so relieved when I delivered the final art, then Designer Karen Powers asked what about the speech balloons? We agreed they needed to be painted as separate pieces and two days and twenty-five balloons later I was done.

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

I could write a novel based on this question.

I love baseball. This was a problem.

I researched an incredible amount on baseball, urban playgrounds and dozens of characters. After my first round of sketches, editor Tara Walker felt I had created a book about baseball and had not gotten inside the poem. She was right and I was back to square one.

The first thing I did was put away all my baseball reference. I then sat down infront of one of my paintings and noticed that all the ingredients were there, I had been trying to 'book illustrate' Casey instead of illustrate the book.

I started the new sketches by creating a narrator to tell the story of the poem. He enters the book by retrieving a foul ball and in the final spread he leaves the book and puts his headphones back on. I returned to my first readings of the poem; the audience, the spectator and the fan as central to the narrative, we join them on the bleachers.

The character of Casey needed to be real, because he stirs real passion in the spectators. But this fierce, collective connection is fleeting as he is left starkly alone after his failure.

Casey at Bat is the rare read/visual feast that really does work for kids of all ages, in part because of the graphic-novel style. It would be a particularly strong choice, say, for those building a general YA collection and/or reluctant teen readers. Did you envision this broad readership when you first started the project. What audience did you see in your mind's eye?

I definitely saw this book as engrossing to teens as adults. I think this is the power of graphic imagery, it allows so many people into the narrative. You know it is working when a fifteen-year-old says it's "cool" and a book reviewer says it's "thoughtful."

What advice do you have for beginning illustrators?

Draw all the time. Get a sketchbook and start really looking at the stories that surround you. We live in a frenetic, over saturated world--we need more people who are awake and looking in the other direction.

How about those building a career?

Don't sit still. The illustrator Craig Frazier is a great example, his third Stanley book, Stanley Goes Fishing was published by Chronicle in March 2006. He also has self published a book of sketches, launched a website on graphic ideas, written a book on illustration, The Illustrated Voice (Graphis, 2003) and I'm sure he has another half dozen plans he's hatching. Don't wait for the phone to ring.

As a reader, what are your favorite recent titles for children/young adults and why?

I have two children, seven and four years old, so I am immersed in kids' books. I also lead a bachelor program in Illustration at Sheridan Institute and teach narrative illustration.

Recent titles include Craig Frazier's Stanley Goes for a Drive (Chronicle, 2004), an imaginative journey in looking at the world. One of my favourite kids' books ever is The Slant Book by Peter Newell, originally published in 1910. Tuttle Publishing has republished it in a beautiful edition. A runaway baby carriage flies down a hill created by the actually slanted book. Finally, Maira Kalman's Ooh-La-La (Max in Love) (Viking, 1994). A dog poet finds love in Paris. Wonderfully written.

Cynsational Notes

See more author/illustrator interviews, multicultural literature overview, themes and communities, and multicultural bibliography.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Author Feature: Susan Goldman Rubin

Susan Goldman Rubin is the author of several books, including Fireflies in the Dark: The Story of Friedl Dicker-Brandeis and the Children and Terezin (Holiday House, 2000), a Sidney Taylor Award Honor Book and a National Jewish Book Award finalist. She lives in California.

What is it about writing, storytelling that calls to you?

I originally wanted to be an illustrator of children's books. I had studied art and did paintings that showed in galleries. But living here in a suburb of LA with young children and no money for traveling back to NY to show what I thought was a portfolio, I decided to write my own stories to have something to illustrate. Then I sent those out and, to my surprise, got as much if not more interest in my writing from editors than in my art.

In my writing, I wanted to break cliches. Starting out with picture books about family, I portrayed my mother, an active widow, as a delightful grandma who invited her grandchildren (my kids) to sleep over--one at a time.

What put you on the path to publication? What were the ah-ha moments?

The excitement of having fine editors and agents take my stories seriously and helping me make them stronger and more marketable. I still find the process the most exciting part of writing.

Any memorable sprints or stumbles along the way?

When I tried to sell my first picture book Grandma Is Somebody Special (Albert Whitman, 2006)(which I originally titled "I Love to Sleep at Grandma's") I naturally thought I would illustrate it. But when I showed it to Robert Kraus, an outstanding editor in NY, and he suggested that Garth Williams could illustrate it and the Jewish grandmother in my story could be a bear, I was thrilled! I had never thought of it. It didn't happen, and I did do the art--full of mistakes--but that little book published by Albert Whitman & Company stayed in print for 20 years.

For those new to your work, could you briefly highlight some of your backlist titles and the inspiration behind each?

I love art so much that I wanted to share my enthusiasm with young people and help them enjoy paintings, drawings, photos and even architecture, by learning the stories behind these great works. So I wound up writing nonfiction for what we call "middle grade" readers.

Some of the titles that I've done that are still in print are these: The Yellow House: Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin Side by Side (Abrams, 2001); Degas and the Dance: The Painter and the Petits Rats Perfecting Their Art (Abrams, 2002); Steven Spielberg: Crazy for Movies (Abrams, 2001); Art Against the Odds: From Slave Quilts to Prison Paintings (Crown/Random House, 2004).

The Spielberg book came about because I too am crazy about movies. And I share Spielberg's goal to educate the public about the Holocaust. I've contributed a portion of my royalty to the Shoah Foundation in perpetuity.

I also enjoyed researching and writing L'Chaim! To Jewish Life in America! Celebrating From 1654 Until Today (Abrams 2004). At first I was delighted to be asked to do this book in association with the Jewish Museum in New York. But then I discovered how much about the history of Jews in America I didn't know and wondered if I could really finish the project. I looked for individual stories about what it was like for Jewish immigrants to come to America and settle in different regions. Even out West and in Alaska! My father who emigrated from Russia in 1914 was an inspiration and I especially liked working on the chapters about New York's Lower East Side where he lived as a boy.

For many years I had a great desire to make a contribution to Holocaust literature for children. My father was born in Russia, probably the area called Moldova since my maiden name is Moldof, and he went through a pogrom when he was a little boy. His stories of hiding in the cellar and going up on the street afterward to see the dead bodies haunted me. I believed the same could happen to me even though I grew up safely in the Bronx. But I didn't find the story that was the right one for me to tell until I stumbled upon the art and remarkable work of Friedl Dicker-Brandeis.

The result was my book Fireflies in the Dark: The Story of Friedl Dicker-Brandeis and the Children of Terezin (Holiday House, 2000). Once I started reading about Friedl and the extraordinary ghetto/concentration camp called Terezin (Theresienstadt in German) I couldn't stop. I had never heard of it and knew this was my story to tell. But I felt that I needed permission from survivors. So I went to Prague and Terezin and met remarkable people who had been children at Terezin and they enthusiastically urged me to go forward with the project.

I'd like to focus on two of your picture books, The Flag with Fifty-Six Stars: A Gift from the Survivors of Mauthausen, illustrated by Bill Farnsworth (Holiday House, 2005) and The Cat with the Yellow Star: Coming of Age in Terezin, with Ela Weissberger (Holiday House, 2006). Let's talk first about The Flag with Fifty-Six Stars. What about this particular story called to you?

When I saw the actual flag at the Museum of Tolerance I was deeply moved. To think that former prisoners at Mauthausen, one of the worse of the concentration camps, had the spirit and drive to create this gift for their liberators despite their weakened and miserable condition. This was a testament to the dignity and humanity of people.

My friend, Adaire, Director of Library & Archives at the Simon Wiesenthal Center/Museum of Tolerance, showed me he flag and told me that children who came through to see it were interested in the mistake: the flag has fifty-six stars although the flag had forty-eight stars at that time, 1945, representing the states in the Union. Who made the mistake and why? I felt this was the basis of a true story that had to be told. No one else had done a book about Mauthausen and I wanted to do it.

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

The research took quite a while. Some of the information that the Museum of Tolerance had was not accurate. I tried to find out who exactly had made the flag and how. Although I never found out for sure, I did uncover information previously unknown.

I wrote to Simon Wiesenthal who was alive at that time. He had been in the Death Block at Mauthausen and I thought he might remember the flag with fifty-six stars. He didn't but he sent me a wonderful letter about what the American flag and his liberators meant to him and gave me permission to quote.

I also spoke to survivors who could tell me more--Prem Dobias, a lawyer in London, and Mike Jacobs, a survivor from Poland who now lives in Texas. I looked through articles about liberation written by members of the 11th Armored Division and I spoke to the group's historian who had made videos on the day of liberation. The whole process took a couple of years. And writing about this dreadful place for young readers was difficult. I needed to be truthful yet not horrific.

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

The challenges were many. How to write this story for young people without a child as the main viewpoint character? There were no children at Mauthausen. I later found out in reading Simon Wiesenthal's memoirs that perhaps there was one, maybe two. The youngest person I could question was Mike Jacobs who was a teenager during his imprisonment.

Some of the people I interviewed, such as Prem Dobias, told me not to write this book. He said that Mauthausen was too terrible a place and children should not know about it.

On the other hand, my editor and I felt the story needed to be told. The making of the flag in our opinion was life affirming and full of hope.

Mike Jacobs' message in his own book Holocaust Survivor (Eakin, 2001) is that he never gave up hope. He always believed that one day he would be free. And he encouraged me to do the book. He even came to LA with his wife for the launch at the Museum of Tolerance and I had the great pleasure of meeting him in person.

I just have to add that the research continues even now. I keep getting letters from relatives of former prisoners and their liberators. It's so moving and gratifying to know that these people like the book and are glad that I wrote it. And sometimes they add information that is new to me and that we can incorporate in future editions.

What did Bill Farnsworth's illustrations bring to your text?

Bill Farnsworth's paintings are glorious. I feel so lucky that my editor chose him as the illustrator and that he accepted. His art enriches the story and gives it warmth and emotion. We never spoke or exchanged letters until the book was published. And then I found out that Bill's father was a G.I. and a photo of him was a reference for the beautiful double spread at the end of the book.

The Cat with the Yellow Star is a middle grade memoir in picture book form. For those who've yet to read it, could you tell us a bit about Ela Stein's story and your collaborative process with her?

I met Ela while I was researching Fireflies. She was one of Friedl's favorite art students and we used many of Ela's paintings and drawings in our book. I couldn't help but admire Ela's strength and vitality and felt that hers was a story to be told. For friendship and music were tools for her survival as well as art.

Ela was chosen to play the role of the Cat in the children's opera "Brundibar" that was performed at Terezin 55 times. To this day whenever it's performed anywhere in the world she's invited to attend and sing the final Victory March with the children who perform.

In fact, I met her in person when I went to see a performance of "Brundibar" that was given at UC Irvine in Southern California. I had seen Ela in so many videos that I immediately recognized her--and her voice--before we were properly introduced. We became friends and kept meeting at conferences, then visiting at each other's houses.

Over a period of about five years we developed the shape of this book which tells her story. In addition to interviewing her many, many times, I watched her videotaped interview for the Shoah Foundation to help me understand the events of her life.

When I finished the first draft she went over it to check for accuracy and, of course, to give her approval. We went through her family photo album to select pictures for the book and when the first proofs were ready, she went over captions and text to make corrections.

What advice do you have for beginning writers?

Write from the heart. Choose those subjects that truly excite you, move you, that you feel need to be told. Read, read, read. See what other authors do and try to understand good writing and what makes it good.

How about those interested in non-fiction? Could you pass on any tips to beginning researchers?

Try to use primary sources--interviews, letters, diaries, newspaper articles and so on in addition to reading. Find an angle, a bit of information, a detail that is fresh.

What do you do when you're not writing?

I read. A lot. Many different kinds of books and The New Yorker, which is a terrific magazine for fiction and non-fiction. Also love movies, concerts, theater and working out at the gym. And spending time with my family.

What can your fans look forward to next?

Andy Warhol: Pop Art Painter (Abrams, Fall 2006) and Delicious: The Work and World of Wayne Thiebaud (Chronicle Books, spring 2007), and a few other projects in the works.

Cynsational Notes

See more author/illustrator interviews and Jewish and Holocaust-related themes in children's and YA literature. See also the picture book and multicultural book bibliographies.

Cynsational News & Links

Black Males in Children's Books by Don Tate from Devas T. Rants and Raves. See also my comment on Don's post.

Guardian Children's Fiction Prize 2006: "long list" finalists include Tim Wynne-Jones (author interview).

Roaring Brook has slated the YA anthology Boy Meets Girl, Girl Meets Boy for spring 2008. The anthology will feature sets of companion short stories by Jim Howe and Ellen Wittlinger (author interview), Terry Trueman and Rita Williams-Garcia, Joseph Bruchac (author interview) and Cynthia Leitich Smith, Terry Davis and Alex Flinn (author interview), Randy Powell and Sara Ryan, and Chris Crutcher and Kelly Milner Halls (author interview). Learn more about my short stories.

Scandal points to real teenage story of mimicry: Kaavya Viswanathan did a disservice not only to readers but to herself in following a chic-lit formula too closely with her first, and possibly last, novel. By Marina Budhos, special to the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star-Tribune. Cyn Note: A thoughtful analysis by someone who knows YA fiction. Authors that Marina references include: Mitali Perkins; Kashmira Sheth; Tanuja Desai Hidier, author of Born Confused (Scholastic, 2002)(excerpt); Jacqueline Woodson; An Na (author interview); and Karen Hesse. Marina is the author of Ask Me No Questions (Atheneum, 2006)(excerpt)(author interview), which is recommended.

Surfed by Spookycyn lately? I've blogged recently about "X-Men: The Last Stand" at the Alamo Draft House; an Austin band called "The Hudsons" at Waterloo Ice House; my Grandma Dorothy's bluebird collection; my quandry over eating mammals; and more.
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