Friday, November 16, 2007

Cynsational News, Links & Librarian-Educator Giveaway

On Nov. 11, I had the honor of speaking at the Norman Public Library as part of its Native American Festival. Also featured were Dr. Mary Jo Watson (Seminole), who is the Director of the OU School of Art, and Commander John Herrington (Chickasaw), who was a NASA Astronaut and flew on the space shuttle in 2002.

Highlights included a performance by the Oklahoma Fancy Dancers, who are highly recommended.

I would like to thank Julie and everyone at the Norman Public Library/Pioneer Library System for including me in the event.

In his talk, John mentioned the need to encourage children and teenagers in their studies of math, science, and engineering.

Listening to him speak, I was struck in that moment by how different it was than the persistently historical (if not extinct) image of Native people in the mainstream world. It occurred to me to once again make an effort to raise awareness and celebrate that we are peoples of Nations with a past, present, and future as well as to build on John's point.

So, from now until midnight Nov. 30, teachers, librarians, and university professors in related fields are invited to enter a giveaway contest for a copy of an Oklahoma Read Y'all poster featuring John (and signed by him) as well as a signed copy my tween novel, Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001), which is set in northeast Kansas and features characters originally from Oklahoma.

Rain Is Not My Indian Name was a finalist for the Oklahoma Book Award and featured at both the Second National Book Festival and the Texas Book Festival. In recognition of my writing it, I was named a 2001 Writer of the Year by Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers. The story features an intertribal summer camp, focusing on science and technology, for Native teens.

Multicultural Review said: "This is a young adult novel with heart. The characters are real. Smith deftly tackles such dominant society icons and artifacts as football mascots, fake dreamcatchers, Elvis, Anime, Pez, cigar-store Indians and Barbie, and places them in a contemporary Indian cultural context alongside fried bologna sandwiches, two-steps, and star quilts."

School Library Journal said: "There is a surprising amount of humor in this tender novel. It is one of the best portrayals around of kids whose heritage is mixed but still very important in their lives. It's Rain's story and she cannot be reduced to simple labels. A wonderful novel of a present-day teen and her 'patch-work tribe.'"

To enter, send me an email with the subject line "Native Now," and, in the body of the message, (a) your name; (b) your snail mail address; (c) whether you're a teacher or librarian; (d) and the name of your school or library.

Please feel free to spread the word about this giveaway!

I will send out the items during the first week in December to encourage study and celebration beyond November and into the new year!

More News & Links

Congratulations to Sherman Alexie, author The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Little, Brown), for winning the National Book Award! Finalists were: Kathleen Duey, Skin Hunger: A Resurrection of Magic, Book One (Atheneum)(author interview); M. Sindy Felin, Touching Snow (Atheneum); Brian Selznick, The Invention of Hugo Cabret (Scholastic); Sara Zarr, Story of a Girl (Little, Brown)(author interview). Read Cynsations interviews with Kathleen and Sara. Rita Williams-Garcia interviews the National Book Award finalists: Sherman Alexie; Kathleen Duey; M. Sindy Felin; Brian Selznick; and Sara Zarr. See Cynsations interviews with Rita, Kathleen, and Sara.

Oklahoma Reads Oklahoma: a statewide literary celebration to mark Oklahoma's centennial.

Best Illustrated Children's Books 2007 from the New York Times. Presented in a gorgeous slide-show format. A required link for picture book and art lovers!

Congratulations to Jane Peddicord, author of the month for all Austin area Barnes & Noble stores! Jane's latest book is That Special Little Baby, illustrated by Meilo So (Harcourt, 2007). Jane will be reading and signing at 11 a.m. Nov. 24 at the Sunset Valley Barnes & Noble.

Austin SCBWI is sponsoring a holiday book fair, featuring several of its published members Nov. 18 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Lakeline Barnes & Noble. Bring this PDF form with you to enter drawings for free books and school supplies. Note: Unfortunately, I won't be able to make it this weekend, but I'm certainly cheering everyone on!

Reminder: Austin SCBWI offers a great line-up for its April 26 conference. Speakers include: author and editor Deborah Noyes Wayshak from Candlewick Press (author-editor interview); Alvina Ling from Little Brown (personal blog); agent Erin Murphy (interview from Olswanger.com)(interview by Pam Mingle from Kite Tales, Rocky Mountain chapter, SCBWI); artist's agent Christina Tugeau; and writing professor Peter Jacobi. See details at Austin SCBWI.

More Personally

While in Norman, Greg and I stayed at the Montford Inn, which is lovely and located just across the street from the library. We also greatly enjoyed dining at Benvenuti's on Main Street.

Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith from WORD: the official blog of READ and WRITING magazines. Note: focus is on my short story, "A Real Live Blond Cherokee and His Equally Annoyed Soul Mate," which appears in the current issue of Read. See Nov. 15 blog entry.

Attention, Austinites! Greg and I will be reading Santa Knows, illustrated by Steve Bjorkman (Dutton, 2006) at 1 p.m. Dec. 2 at Barnes & Noble Westlake.

From the flap copy: "Who knows if you've been naughty or nice? Santa knows, that's who! But not everyone believes in Santa Claus. Consider Alfie F. Snorklepuss. He thinks he's proven that Santa Claus doesn't exist. Alfie thinks there is no way that Santa could do all the things he's supposed to, like deliver billions of presents all over the world in one night or know what every little kid wants. When Alfie starts spreading the word that there is no Santa Claus, he makes someone very unhappy: his little sister Noelle. And so Noelle turns to the only person who can help her. The one person Alfie thinks doesn't exist: Santa Claus. Ho, ho, ho!"

If you would like a signed bookplate for Santa Knows, just write me with "Santa Knows" in the subject line, and both your snail mail address and any personalization information in the body of the email. Visit www.santa-knows.com!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Library Sparks Features Santa Knows Reader's Theater

Check out the December 2007 issue of Library Sparks: Engaging Activities to Reach Every Reader for a reader's theater for Santa Knows, illustrated by Steve Bjorkman (Dutton, 2006)(book authors Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith)(reader's theater author Toni Buzzeo).

The same issue also features a reader's theater for Hanukkah, Shmanukka, illustrated by LeUyen Pham (book author Esme Raji Codell)(reader's theater author Lynne Farrell Stover).

"Meet Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith" by Toni Buzzeo from Library Sparks (PDF file). A Web extension.

Read a Cynsations interviews with Toni and Esme and visit www.santa-knows.com!

Cynsational News & Links

Enter the November drawing for sets of terrific titles for your youth book club from the Kids' Book Club Book by Judy Gelman and Vicki Levy Krump (Tarcher, 2007). This month's titles are: Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan (Scholastic, 2000) for grades 4 and up, Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse (Scholastic, 1997) for grades 5 and up, and A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb (Houghton Mifflin, 2005) for grades 9 and up. Learn more about these books. Up to 15 books per club; entry deadline Nov. 30.

At Can You Hear Us Now? at Blogging in Black, four talented youth literature creators respond to the following question: "Of 5,000 children’s books published in '06, only about 100 were by African Americans. But of that 100, most people can name maybe three. Why are the rest going virtually unnoticed?"

Two new articles for Stephenie Meyer fans: Valley mom sinks her teeth into Gothic romance and finds international fame by Jaimee Rose from the Arizona Republic. See also Series Gets the Blood Racing by Malene Arpe from the Star. Source: Vampire Wire. Read a Cynsations interview with Stephenie.

Recommended Books About Thanksgiving from American Indians in Children's Literature. Note: offers additional insights into Native-US cultural relationships associated with the holiday and more broadly.

If you are traveling to Ethiopia, Ethiopia Reads challenges you to take one book with you, because we believe that education is hope and books can change lives. We would love the book to go to our projects - books can be dropped off at the Shola Children's Library in Addis Ababa. Shola is located in Beklo-bet, behind the Dashen Bank off of Debre Zeit road. If you can't make it to Shola - just give one book to any child in Ethiopia, because books can change lives. For more information about Ethiopia Reads and it's projects visit www.EthiopiaReads. Read an interview with Jane Kurtz on the Ethiopian Books for Children and Educational Foundation.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Agent Interview: Nathan Bransford of Curtis Brown

Nathan Bransford on Nathan Bransford: "I grew up the son of rice farmers in Colusa, California, where I strenuously avoided all forms of manual farm labor (somewhat unsuccessfully) and instead read as many books as possible. I graduated from Stanford University and headed straight to Curtis Brown Ltd., where I am now an agent handling adult and children's books. I enjoy reading, playing the piano, and watching reality television shows of questionable quality." See Nathan's blog and MySpace.

What inspired you to become a literary agent?

I have always gravitated toward books, and although I love movies and television, nothing moves me like a great book. In college, when I received the "Dear Undeclared Junior" letter that said I needed to pick a major or face unspecified disciplinary measures, I looked at my transcript, saw that I had been mostly taking English classes, and went with it. And when I graduated from college, I was fortunate enough to see a job listing for a position in San Francisco for the assistant to the President of Curtis Brown--it looked like my dream job, and I've been with Curtis Brown ever since.

What led you to specialize in youth literature? Could you give us a snapshot of your career?

After a couple of years in the San Francisco office of Curtis Brown I moved over to the New York office, where I had the pleasure of working with Ginger Knowlton (agent interview) and Laura Blake Peterson, who both represent amazing children's book authors. They've been incredible mentors for me. I'm now actively building my own client list, and have benefited immensely from working closely with Ginger and Laura and their wonderful clients (including you!)

How long have you been in the business? How has it changed?

I have been in the business five years, and thus things haven't changed a tremendous amount, although I do think that more and more interactions, submissions and networking are done via the web and e-mail, which has sped up the client acquisition process to some degree.

I've been an early adopter of that whole technology thing, and I find it's been very helpful to me as I build my list.

You're one of the few blogging agents, and you're very generous with information and encouragement. What inspired you to enter the blogosphere? What are your thoughts on it?

Thank you! I started blogging because I wanted to help out aspiring authors, and, well, because I was worried about the karmic ramification of passing on so many queries. The "rules" of the publishing industry are often opaque, and while it's impossible for me to respond to every question I receive, I thought I might be able to help people out by provide some general advice. And then I found out it's really fun! I think the book blogosphere is wonderful, and it gives aspiring authors such a huge leg up if they're plugged in.

Would you describe yourself as an "editorial agent," one who comments on manuscripts, or one who concentrates more exclusively on publishing issues? Why?

I would say I'm an editorial agent--I feel that it adds value to a submission to be in the absolute best form possible, and while I try never to impose my own vision on a project, I will definitely help the author hone their own vision for the project and make sure the manuscript or proposal is in the absolute best shape possible before it goes to editors.

Is your approach more manuscript by manuscript or do you see yourself as a career builder?

I'm definitely a career builder--I don't tend to do one-off projects and am instead looking for authors for the long haul.

Why should unagented writers consider working with an agent?

An agent will give an author a huge boost with submissions, can provide expertise on every aspect of the publishing process, can provide editorial guidance, contract negotiations, therapy...just having an advocate who is always on your side is worth its weight in gold. It's becoming rarer and rarer for an unagented author to make it through publishers' slush piles, and an agent is all but essential.

What do you see as the ingredients for a "breakout" book in terms of commercial success, literary acclaim and/or both?

That's literally the million dollar question. I wish I knew what the formula is--my job would be a great deal easier! But I will say that although a "breakout" book is nearly impossible to predict, it usually has an "it" factor about it. It's the type of project that gets people excited and saying, "Have you seen," and it hits the cultural zeitgeist. But the exactly formula between quality, genre, cover, title, marketing, etc. is impossible to pin down.

In terms of markets (children's, YA, fiction, non-fiction, genres, chapter books, ER, picture books, etc.), what sorts of manuscripts appeal to you?

I handle older middle-grade and up, and especially YA. Within that general age range, I look for fresh and original voices in all genres, and books with a killer plot.

Do you work with author-illustrators and/or illustrators?

No, I'm afraid I don't.

Are you accepting unsolicited submissions? What is the best way for a prospective client to get in touch with you?

Yes, please! I (usually) respond to all queries within 24 hours. Please e-mail me at nb@cbltd.com.

Do you have any particular submissions preferences or pet peeves?

I declared war on queries beginning with rhetorical questions in 2006, and it is a battle I have been fighting ever since.

How much contact do you have with your clients? Emails, phone calls, retreats, listservs? What kind of relationship are you looking to build and why?

I am very regularly in touch with my clients via phone and e-mail, and will provide as much feedback or updates as they would like. I try to respond to all questions in the same day and I read manuscripts as quickly as possible.

What are the greatest challenges of being an agent?

I think when I began taking on clients I had a vision of the floodgates opening and Nobel Prize winners and NY Times bestsellers flocking to my Inbox. Believe it or not, this was not the case!

It's kind of a strange process, because you're constantly besieged with queries (I think I receive somewhere around 7,000-10,000 a year) and yet it's really difficult to find something that will break out in a big way.

And particularly when you are a young agent, you're up against very experienced agents with deep contacts and a zillion sales to their credit. Building up a list is quite a challenge, but I shall not be deterred!

What do you love about it?

I really love working with my clients, and they make everything worth it. At the end of the day you're helping make books happen, and that's something that I will always be passionate about.

Would you like to highlight a few of your clients and/or their recent titles?

The most recent book of my client's to come out was Kim Long's The Almanac of Political Corruption, Scandals & Dirty Politics (Delacorte, 2007) (author interview), a catalog of all the most significant (and somewhat hilarious) political scandals in the last 300 years. It's an amazing book, and I recommend it to political junkies everywhere.

As a reader, which books have you enjoyed lately and why?

I tend to read a little bit of everything. The last three books I've read were Gossip Girl by Cecily Von Ziegesar, The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid, and I re-read The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer, all of which are fabulous.

Cynsational Notes

Agent Interview with Nathan Bransford from author Alma Fullerton.

Agent Matchmaking with Nathan Bransford of Curtis Brown Limited from Authorness.

Agent Stories: Nathan Bransford from Lyons Literary LLC.

Nathan Bransford: Literary Agent from the PODler.

Interview with Literary Agent Nathan Bransford from Ronna AKA All Those Other People.

Ask Nathan Bransford from The Absolute Write Water Cooler.

What Do Agents Actually Do? by Nathan Bransford from Children Come First.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

2007 - 2008 Texas Library Association Reading Lists

The Texas Library Association has announced its new recommended reading lists.

2 x 2: featured titles include: An Egg is Quiet by Dianna Hutts Aston, illustrated by Sylvia Long (author-illustrator interview); Nutmeg and Barley: A Budding Friendship by Janie Bynum; Looking for a Moose by Phyllis Root, illustrated by Randy Cecil (author interview); Count Me a Rhyme: Animal Poems By the Numbers by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Jason Stemple. Note: This list is compiled for young readers ages 2 through second grade. View the whole list.

Personal Note: Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu was a Texas 2 x 2 book in 2001.

The Bluebonnet List: featured titles include: The Middle of Somewhere by J.B. Cheaney; Toys Go Out by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky; How to Steal a Dog by Barbara O'Conner; and Crossing Bok Chitto: A Choctaw Tale of Friendship by Tim Tingle. Note: this list is compiled for young readers in grades three through six. View the whole list.

The Lonestar List: featured titles include: Beastly by Alex Flinn (author interview); Tales of the Cryptids: Mysterious Creatures That May or May Not Exist by Kelly Milner Halls, Roxyanne Young, and Rick Spears (author interview); Brothers, Boyfriends & Other Criminal Minds by April Lurie (author interview). Note: this list is compiled for young readers in grades six through eight. View the whole list (doc).

The Tayshas List: featured titles include: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson; Shark Girl by Kelly Bingham (author interview); Glass Houses: The Morganville Vampires, Book 1 by Rachel Caine (author interview); Beige by Cecil Castellucci; The Plain Janes by Cecil Castellucci; Not Like You by Deborah Davis (author interview); Walking on Glass by Alma Fullerton; Dark Water Rising by Marian Hale (author interview); Keturah and Lord Death by Martine Leavitt; The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga (author interview); Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr (author interview); Wait for Me by An Na; Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith; Notes from the Midnight Driver by Jordan Sonnenblick (author interview); Rubber Houses by Ellen Yeomans; and Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr (author interview). Note: this list is compiled for young readers in high school. View the whole list (doc)!

Personal Note: I'm incredibly honored that Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007) was included on the Tayshas list. I'd also like to thank Shelby for emailing me with the news when it was posted!

Author Team Works to Highlight African American Children's and YA Authors

Severna Park, MD--YA authors, Paula Chase and Varian Johnson have never met in person. One lives in Maryland, the other in Texas. One is a spokesperson for a small city government; the other designs bridges. But they share two things in common: they write YA fiction and they're tired of watching themselves and many of their peers fly under the radar.

"If I hear 'there'’s no YA out there for African American teens' one more time I'm going to scream," says Chase, the author of Dafina's Del Rio Bay Clique teen literature series. "Granted, it may not be publicized like some of the flashier mainstream YA fiction, but it's out there."

After bumping into one another on various children's writers' boards, they realized the same issue popped up again and again--the overwhelming lack of awareness to African Americans writing for children, especially YA, outside of the heavy-hitting veteran authors.

Determined to launch an initiative that would shine the spotlight on the varied African American voices writing for young readers, Chase and Johnson took a page from Readergirlz, an online community that celebrates strong female characters in YA fiction, and created The Brown Bookshelf.

"According to the Children's Book Collective, out of the approximately 5,000 children's books published in 2006, less than one-hundred were written by people of African decent," says Johnson, the author of Essence Magazine best-selling novel, A Red Polka Dot in A World Full of Plaid. "If we want those numbers to increase, we have to do a better job of supporting African-American authors and illustrators."

Chase and Johnson recruited fellow writers Carla Sarratt and Kelly Starling Lyons, and award-winning illustrator, Don Tate, to serve as a research and review team.

On Feb. 1, the group will launch the 28 Days Later Campaign, an initiative designed to highlight African-American authors with recently released books or books that have "gone unnoticed."

Each day during Black History Month, a different book and author will be featured at www.thebrownbookshelf.com. The campaign will culminate with a day of giveaways and announcements of future programs on February 29th.

"The name is a play off the zombie movie, because it signals the aftermath," Chase says. "Once we showcase the twenty-eight best voices in African American children's lit, parents, teachers and librarians will walk away with a full arsenal of recommendations for young readers."

The committee is already scouring the shelves to identify authors of color offering the best in picture books, middle grade and young adult novels. They will be taking nominations from others in the children's literature community and requesting publishers to submit authors.

"We’re asking for help from all corners of the online children's literature community," Johnson says. "The more suggestions we get, the better."

In addition to soliciting suggestions from the online children's literature Community, the authors are partnering with the African American Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (AACBWI) and the Black Caucus of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) to ensure the 28 Days Later campaign reaches the intended audience of educators and librarians. Both organizations see merit in The Brown Bookshelf.

"We have been able to grow the African American Read-In through partnerships with those of like interest and commitment. The launching of this new literacy campaign is timely and we are excited that new seeds are being planted at a time when they are needed to reach out and encourage people of all ethnic groups to balance the images of reading failures with images of reading success," says Jerrie Cobb Scott, Founder and National Director of the African American Read-In Chain. "Another partnership seed is certain to blossom into new readers and new supporters for literacy, the gift that keeps on giving."

"Our online community boasts many authors and illustrators who are published or on the cusp of being published, and their words and art represent a broad spectrum of experiences and cultures," says Karen Strong, moderator of the AACBWI forum. "The Brown Bookshelf is a great way to showcase these authors and illustrators and connect with readers."

The Brown Bookshelf founders emphasize their desire to enhance, not duplicate efforts to increase awareness to books by authors of color.

"We weren't about to recreate the wheel," Johnson says. "Our partners are in the trenches doing similar work to bring attention to good books. But often the focus is too broadly focused on all books by African Americans. Our focus is solely on books for children. It's imperative people see there are lots of quality books out there for teens and young readers."

Johnson and Chase encourage publishers to submit their authors work for consideration. Authors may also self-submit. However, self-published works are by invitation only.

"There are so few national venues for under-promoted books to get a boost, authors are hungry for the attention. So we had to set limitations," Chase says. "But we'll be showcasing two self-published works in the campaign."

Chase and Johnson see a life for The Brown Bookshelf beyond the 28 Days Later campaign. There are plans to launch a special initiative targeting book clubs, start a monthly author feature and make 28 Days Later an annual event.

"Until people can name more than Walter Dean Meyers and Sharon Draper when asked about African American children's authors, there’s a need for an initiative like this," Johnson says. "We're in it for the long haul."

The Brown Bookshelf is designed to push awareness of the myriad of African American voices writing for young readers. Their flagship initiative, 28 Days Later, is a month-long showcase of the best in picture books, middle grade and young adult novels written by African American authors.

Monday, November 12, 2007

88th Annual Children's Book Week: Rise Up Reading!

From the Children's Book Council:


Rise Up to your Challenges
Rise Up to your Imagination
Rise Up to your Dreams
Rise Up Reading!


Reading is not a solitary, stationary activity. People learn, grow, and benefit from reading in their day-to-day lives because so much of today's information is only available through the written word ­in books, newspapers, magazines, the Internet, and even on television. Unfortunately, the statistics are staggering:

"The ability to read and understand complicated information is important to success in college and, increasingly, in the workplace. An analysis of the NAEP long-term trend reading assessments reveals that by age 17, only about 1 in 17 seventeen-year olds can read and gain information from specialized text, for example the science section in the local newspaper" (National Institute for Literacy).

Children cannot "Rise Up" to this challenge without many, many hours of reading practice, and it'’s impossible for anyone to read that much without first developing a love of reading. During Children's Book Week, parents, educators, and other caregivers can "Rise Up" to this challenge and take a stand. Introduce your kids to all sorts of books and "Rise Up Reading" together.

The 88th celebration of Children's Book Week is from Nov. 12 to Nov. 18. Communities throughout the United States create their own unique celebrations, including storytelling, parties, author and illustrator appearances, and other book-related events. More information can be found at your local library or bookstore, as well as on the CBC Website.

New Materials for Children's Book Week 2007

Rise Up Reading! is the theme of Children's Book Week! Edward Koren conveys the excitement and energy of books and reading in the official poster of Children's Book Week. Jon J. Muth, Ana Juan, Peter Reynolds, and Stephen Savage also created special display materials illustrating this year's theme. This year's poet is Pam Muñoz Ryan. Her poem is featured on a bookmark illustrated by Jim Ishikawa. All these materials are available for purchase from the Children’s Book Council. The Children's Book Council also provides a number of free online materials to encourage reading and to enhance community Children's Book Week celebration, including a new story starter from Eoin Colfer.

Children's Book Week Moving to May in 2008

In response to overwhelming feedback from publishers, booksellers, librarians, and teachers, the CBC will change the timing of Children's Book Week for the first year since its inception in 1919. For the 89th celebration in 2008, Children's Book Week will be held from May 12 to May 18. Going forward, Children's Book Week will be held during one of the first two weeks of May.

Cynsational Notes

The Children's Book Council is a nonprofit trade association that promotes the use and enjoyment of children's trade books and related literacy materials for young people, and is the official sponsor of Children's Book Week. The CBC's membership is made up of U.S. publishers and packagers of trade books for children and young adults, and producers of related literacy materials. Proceeds from the sale of materials helps support the CBC's literacy efforts.
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