Friday, November 20, 2009

Craft, Career & Cheer: Anita Silvey

Anita Silvey's latest book is Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book: Life Lessons from Notable People from All Walks of Life (Roaring Brook, 2009).

So far, what’s the most fun you’ve ever had working on a book? Why?

I know that many authors suffer from the "my newest baby is my favorite baby" syndrome. Certainly, that defines my state of mind at the moment.

From beginning to end, Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book provided more happiness and excitement for me than any book I have worked on.

The moment Lauren Wohl of Roaring Brook Press suggested the title, I felt a chill running down my spine. She had just summed up in one phrase the work of my lifetime.

Early in my career, I started asking anyone I met (at cocktail parties, dinners, even in cabs and elevators) about the books they read as a child. A universal ice breaker, this question often elicited smiles and fond memories.

However, for my "new baby," I talked to people that I would not ordinarily meet -- about 110 leaders of society in a variety of fields such as science, arts, politics, sports, or journalism.

To them I posed a more serious question: “What children’s book changed your life in a profound way?”

As I conducted interviews with Pete Seeger, Andrew Wyeth, Steve Forbes, Julianne Moore, Peter Lynch, and Kirk Douglas, I realized that I possess far too little faith in the power of children's books.

What these icons read as children shaped them as adults – in amazing ways. Some recalled a character with fondness; some became attracted to a location or country because of a book. Some have remembered a single line from a book for decades. Many chose careers because of a children’s book. Many found a personal, social, or political philosophy that has sustained them for decades.

What was the most important thing you learned in your research?

Not only do those who write children’s books affect young people, but those who put books in children’s hands have just as much influence. Most of my contributors link a particular book to the person who shared it with them.

Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book is, in fact, dedicated to those who find daily inspiration on Cynsations: "For my colleagues: the women and men who have created, published, taught about, promoted and championed children’s books over the years. They have made it possible for our children to find the right book at the right time."

What has been the highlight of your professional career and how do you define success?

I've always felt that my best moment professionally is the one I am living--right here, right now. Success, for me or any other writer, lies in perseverance, in staying the course.

So I am thrilled to be headed out on book tour to talk about the importance of children’s books and the many ways in which books shape young readers.

Thank you for letting me “natter on” about the new baby.

Cynsational Notes

The Craft, Career & Cheer series features conversations with children's-YA book creators about positive aspects of their creative and professional lives.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Author Round-up: Writing Around The Holidays by Tina Ferraro from YA Fresh. Peek from Sydney Salter: "I exchange knowing glances with the other café regulars and I buckle down and write as fast as I can for an hour or two while sipping a peppermint mocha."

Native American Spirituality in Children's Books by Debby Dahl Edwardson from Through the Tollbooth. Peek: "The question you, as a non-Native writer, should ask yourself is this: why don’t Native writers put overt references to Native religion, spirituality and worship in their books? Take a minute to think about it. This is important." Read a Cynsations interview with Debby.

Craft Issue #9: Desire
by Janet S. Fox from Through the Wardrobe. Peek: "Drag the word out, now, breathy and low: d-e-s-i-r-e. There you go." Read a Cynsations interview with Janet.

Preparing for The Call by Tabitha Olson at Writer Musings. Peek: "The Call, with an offer of representation. Sometimes agents will send an email ahead of time, asking to schedule a phone call, and others will just call out of the blue. I experienced both, and my planning-oriented brain much preferred the scheduled phone call. Because you just can’t get your brain oriented properly for a spontaneous phone call."

When Characters Take Over by Brian Yansky from Brian's Blog. Peek: "Maybe it is just finding the place, the altered state, which allows you to access that part of the brain that makes intuitive leaps. Or maybe you’re connecting to a higher power, any higher power." Read a Cynsations interview with Brian.

ReadMe: The Dog Who Loved Tortillas: an interview with Benjamin Alire Sáenz from Spanglish Baby. Peek: "I'm especially concerned that we're losing boys. Reading has become a girl thing. That's a silly concept. We need to do a better job. We need a new motto: Real men read books."

Marvelous Marketer: Kaylan Adair (Assoc. Editor at Candlewick Press) from Shelli at Market My Words. Peek: "If an author has an online presence that I feel is lacking (maybe they have a blog they only update every few months) or inappropriate (perhaps the content of their website or blog isn't appropriate for their book audience), I'll discuss ways in which they can more effectively or appropriately manage their online presence."

An Interview with Elizabeth O. Dulemba by Greg Pincus at The Happy Accident. Peek: "When I discovered iPhone Picture Book Apps, I thought it was a fantastic new way to share stories and could be a nice complement to physical books." Read a Cynsations guest post on marketing by Elizabeth.

Keeping Your Audience in Mind, Just Like Darwin Did by Deborah Heiligman from I.N.K. Interesting Nonfiction for Kids. Peek: "He worked very hard to make his argument airtight. And he wrote it in a tone that would not offend."

Top 10 Religion Books for Youth: 2009 by Illene Cooper from Booklist Online. Read a Cynsations interview with Micol and David Ostow on So Punk Rock (And Other Ways to Disappoint Your Mother)(Flux, 2009).

How to Make a Storyboard: An Illustrated Tutorial from "Writing with Pictures: How to Write and Illustrate Children's Books" by Uri Shulevitz from Mighty Art Demos and Tutorials. Peek: "The storyboard gives you a bird's eye view of the whole book: it shows all the pages of the book, greatly reduced, on a single sheet of paper."

Border Crossing by Jessica Lee Anderson (Milkweed, 2009): a recommendation by Greg Leitich Smith. Peek: "...a fascinating and disturbing novel of Manz's descent into hallucinatory paranoia and suspicion...." See also: Border Crossing by Jessica Lee Anderson: a recommendation by Jeff Rivera at GalleyCat. Peek: "Will Manz be able to tell what is real and what is imagined before the summer is over, or will it be too late?" Read a Cynsations interview with Jessica and P.J. Hoover.

WBBT: Writing with Jacqueline Kelly by Vivian from HipWriterMama. Peek: "Callie is a combination of me and my mother. We both hate to cook, sew, and do any kind of housework. It must be genetic. I also need to add that my mother is very funny, and not at all like the mother in the novel." Read a Cynsations interview with Jacqueline.

The Winter Blog Blast Tour continues today, with several outstanding interviews. The whole series is highly recommended! Just to highlight a few faves to date, don't miss Mary E. Pearson, Laurie Faria Stolarz, and Laini Taylor.

Because my kid needs my shoulders, or why I don't quit writing by Pam Bachorz. Peek: "This book made me a real-life superhero in my son’s eyes. A superhero whose cape he can borrow." Read a Cynsations interview with Pam. Note: one of best links of the week, hanky alert!

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!: How to Heighten Suspense from Gail Carson Levine. Peek: "Separation from the problem. Suppose your main character, Lucy, has an enemy, and suppose Lucy has to go on a class wilderness week. What is the enemy doing while she's away? What’s going to greet her on her return?" Source: Debbie Ridpath Ohi. Read a Cynsations interview with Gail.

Eight Hanukkah Books: One for Each Day
by Bianca Schulze from The Children's Book Review. Note: picture book recommendations.

The Irrepressible Writer
from Carol Grannick. Peek: "We all have to face negativity in our lives, but I love helping other writers use the time they have in the most productive ways they’re able, without feeling dragged down because of unnecessary and irrational negativity."

Congratulations to the Parent's Choice Award Winners! Special cheers to fellow Austinite Liz Garton Scanlon, author of All the World, illustrated by Marla Frazee (Beach Lane, 2009) and fellow VCFA faculty member Tim Wynne-Jones, author of The Uninvited (Candlewick, 2009)!

Interview with P.J. Hoover by Gretchen McNeil at The Enchanted Inkpot. Peek: "For The Forgotten Worlds trilogy, I took a spark from one of my favorite 'Star Trek' episodes, 'Who Mourns For Adonis.' This was the episode where the Enterprise found Apollo on a planet, and he tried to make them worship him." Read a Cynsations interview with P.J. and Jessica Lee Anderson.

Booklover of the Week presents...Cathy Berner & Becky Lee from Kay Cassidy. Peek: "This week, I’m delighted to welcome not one but two great indie booksellers from Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston, Texas!"

Young Adult Science Fiction: A Reading Guide: a bibliography from Megan Crewe at See also Megan's YA fantasy guide.

The Big Read: an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts to restore reading to the center of American culture by providing citizens with the opportunity to read and discuss a single book within their communities. The initiative includes innovative reading programs in selected cities and towns, comprehensive resources for discussing classic literature, and an extensive website providing comprehensive information on authors and their works. Maximum award: varies. Eligibility: literary organizations, libraries, and community organizations across the country. Deadline: Feb. 2, 2010. Source: PEN Weekly NewsBlast.

Writing Cliches by Carrie Jones from Through the Tollbooth. Peek: "It happens to all of us. It stalks us until our brains and fingers are weak and then it sneaks its way onto our pages, taunting us, daring us to notice, and so often we, poor overworked writers that we are? We are oblivious." Note: the first post in a week-long series. Read a Cynsations interview with Carrie.

Interview with Suzanna Hermans of Oblong Books & Music from Juliette Dominguez at The Enchanted Inkpot. Peek: "When I was first starting out, I was terrified when people would ask me for recommendations - it puts you on the spot and what if you can't think of anything to recommend? Once I learned to have confidence in myself and my opinions, I became much more comfortable with it. Now I love giving recommendations."

Congratulations to Phillip Hoose on Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice (Melanie Kroupa Books, 2009). See video below. Source: Cynthia Lord.

Take a sneak peek at the Class of 2k10. Source: Denise Jaden.

Prairie Writer's Day

Thank you to author Sara F. Shacter and everyone at SCBWI-Illinois for your hospitality at the Fifth Annual Prairie Writer's Day: "Brick by Brick: The Architecture of Our Stories"!

Fellow faculty included agent Michael Stearns of Upstart Crow Literary Agency and editors Stacy Cantor of Walker, Nick Eliopulos of Random House, Alisha Niehaus of Dial, and Yolanda LeRoy of Charlesbridge. Read a Cynsations interview with Yolanda.

Here's Stacy again! Take note, Austinites! Stacy will be joining us for the upcoming Austin SCBWI conference in January. Register now before it sells out!

Author Kimberly Pauley author of Sucks to Be Me: The All-True Confessions of Mina Hamilton, Teen Vampire (Maybe)(Mirrorstone, 2008). Read a Cynsations interview with Kimberly.

Author Cynthea Liu. Read a Cynsations interview with Cynthea. Check out her website--Writing for Children and Teens!

Huge thanks to author Sara F. Shacter, who is a fabulous public speaker! Learn about Sara's book, Heading to the Wedding (Red Rock, 2006)!

Author, speaker, and writing coach Esther Hershenhorn. Read a Cynsations interview with Esther.

Over Chicago deep dish pizza at Uno's Chicago Grill, Greg chats with Michael and Alisha. Don't miss Greg's report on the conference.

More Personally

Howdy to Ms. Deignan's Dover Street School second graders and Ms. Craft's eighth graders! Thank you for your questions about Jingle Dancer (Morrow, 2000) and Eternal (Candlewick, 2009), respectively! It was lovely corresponding with you!

Four Vampire Books Read This Weekend: Vamped by Lucienne Diver, How to Be a Vampire by Amy Gray, Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side by Beth Fantaskey, and Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith: a recommendation/review wrap-up from The Sassy Librarian. Peek: "I was impressed by how different this book was to Tantalize - sometimes you like an author but their narrative voice is very similar between books (and that's okay) but Smith has the ability to really embody her characters and I'm appreciative."

Thanks to Jo Ann Hernandez at BronzeWord Latino Authors for featuring the Native American Youth Literature Widget on her blog this month! The support is appreciated.

Even More Personally

Congratulations to my alma mater, The University of Michigan Law School! According to Law Quadrangle, The William W. Cook Legal Research Library "was selected as one of the top 100 buildings, bridges, monuments, and memorials in a recent American Institute of Architects' public poll--ahead of Radio City Music Hall, Penn Station, and Fenway Park." Pictured above is the Reading Room.

Cynsational Giveaways

In celebration of the Winter Blog Blast Tour, I'm offering a signed copy of any of my books (winner's choice) to one of the folks who thoughtfully comments at my WBBT interview and then emails me to let me know (so I have your contact information). Deadline: midnight CST Nov. 22. See: WBBT: Writing the True with Cynthia Leitich Smith: an interview by Vivian Lee Mahoney at HipWriterMama. Note: Check out my deep thoughts on my publishing background, writing across formats, Native youth literature, writing cross-culturally, girl power & Gothics, true love, and a myriad of other topics. Thanks to readergirlz for the shout out!

Enter to win one of two author-signed copies of Soap Soap Soap Jabón Jabón Jabón by Elizabeth O. Dulemba (Raven Tree, 2009), one of three author-signed copies of My Father's House by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by Raul Colón (Viking, 2007), an author-bookplate-signed copy of Operation Redwood by S. Terrell French (Amulet, 2009) and a contributor-signed copy of Immortal: Love Stories with Bite, edited by P.C. Cast (BenBella, Oct. 2009)!

To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type "Soap Soap Soap Jabón Jabón Jabón" and/or "My Father's House" and/or "Operation Redwood" and/or "Immortal" in the subject line (Facebook, JacketFlap, MySpace, and Twitter readers are welcome to just privately message me with the name in the header; I'll contact you if you win). Deadline: midnight CST Nov. 30.

Read a Cynsations interview with S. Terrell French. See also a PDF excerpt of Immortal which highlights my short story, "Haunted Love." The story is set in the same universe as Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008) and Eternal (Candlewick, 2009) and features new characters.

The winner of The Twelve Days of Christmas in Texas by Janie Bynum (Sterling, 2009) giveaway was Jane from Oregon. Congratulations, Jane!

Cynsations Correction

Blessing's Bead: An Interview with Debby Edwardson by Carol Brendler at Jacket Knack.

Note: this link was incorrectly attributed on Nov. 16 to Carol's fellow blog team member Julie Larios. It has been corrected at all three Cynsations URLs. My apologies for the error.

Carol is the author of Winnie Finn, Worm Farmer, illustrated by Ard Hoyt (FSG, 2009). From the promotional copy:

Winnie Finn is crazy about earthworms and knows everything about them. When spring arrives in Quincy County, all she can think about is the county fair coming up. This year, she would like nothing more than to win a prize for her worms so that she might buy a shiny new wagon for transporting them around. Trouble is, there’s no prize at the fair for worms...

Bright, energetic illustrations accompany this jaunty tale about a young girl’s creativity that will inspire readers of all interests— but especially those with a love for something wiggly.

School Library Journal
said: "Winnie’s spunky, good-natured heart anchors a gentle and entertaining read."

Kirkus Reviews
said: "Hoyt's sprightly cartoons add just the right amount of humorous action to Winnie’s worm-farming tasks, while Winnie's winning personality allows readers to learn a bit about the positive aspects of worm composting. An author's note includes directions for creating a worm farm and sources."

Learn more about Carol Brendler.

Cynsational Events

Destination Publication: An Awesome Austin Conference for Writers and Illustrators is scheduled for Jan. 30 and sponsored by Austin SCBWI. Keynote speakers are Newbery Honor author Kirby Larson and Caldecott Honor author-illustrator Marla Frazee, who will also offer an illustrator breakout and portfolio reviews. Presentations and critiques will be offered by editor Cheryl Klein of Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, author-editor Lisa Graff of FSG, agent Andrea Cascardi of Transatlantic Literary, agent Mark McVeigh of The McVeigh Agency, and agent Nathan Bransford of Curtis Brown, Ltd. Advanced critique break-out sessions will be led by editor Stacy Cantor of Bloomsbury. In addition, Cheryl and author Sara Lewis Holmes will speak on the editor-and-author relationship, and Marla and author Liz Garton Scanlon will speak on the illustrator-and-author relationship. Note: Sara and Liz also will be offering manuscript critiques. Illustrator Patrice Barton will offer portfolio reviews. Additional authors on the speaker-and-critique faculty include Jessica Lee Anderson, Chris Barton, Shana Burg, P.J. Hoover, Jacqueline Kelly, Philip Yates, Jennifer Ziegler. See registration form, information packet, and conference schedule (all PDF files)!

2010 Houston-SCBWI Conference is scheduled for Feb. 20, 2010, at the Merrell Center in Katy. Registration is now open. The faculty includes author Cynthia Leitich Smith, assistant editor Ruta Rimas of Balzer & Bray/HarperCollins, creative director Patrick Collins of Henry Holt, senior editor Alexandra Cooper of Simon & Schuster, senior editor Lisa Ann Sandell of Scholastic, and agent Sara Crowe of Harvey Klinger, Inc.

Donate an Item or Service to the Upcoming Bridget Zinn Auction

From Jacqueline Houtman,
author of The Reinvention of Edison Thomas (Front Street, 2010)

Artists, authors, business owners...

Please consider donating an item or service to sell in an auction to benefit Bridget Zinn [see right, click for blog] and Barrett Dowell.

Bridget is a 32-year-old YA writer and librarian who was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer in March. She and Barrett, who have been together since they were teenagers, were married in the hospital just minutes before she went into surgery to remove a large tumor on her colon. She is now undergoing expensive treatment to shrink--and we hope obliterate--additional tumors.

The treatment seems to be working, but much of it is not covered by her health insurance. Bridget and Barrett's friends and family are rallying to help them pay the bills so that they can focus on Bridget's health. You can learn more about Bridget at her blog,

Between Nov. 27 and Dec. 11, we (a group of Bridget's friends) will hold an online silent auction on the website (not yet active), with all proceeds going to Bridget and Barrett to cover their expenses.

Here's what it means to donate an item or service to the auction:

- You are donating the item to this auction, all proceeds of which will be given to Bridget Zinn. This is not a tax-deductible donation.

- You must provide an item title, description of up to 400 words, and starting bid for the online auction. You may also choose to provide a subtitle, fair market value, reserve price (amount that must be reached in bidding for the item to be sold), up to two photos/images, and website address for further information about you or about the item. All of this should be emailed to cailin.oconnor (at) no later than Nov. 25.

- You may choose how you want to get the item to the winning bidder:

(1) Keep the item until the auction ends, and mail it to the winning bidder (or contact the winner to arrange pick-up/delivery if feasible). We will contact you with the winner's contact information when payment has been received, and ask that you put the item in the mail to the winning bidder within 3 business days.

(2) Give your donated item to one of the auction organizers, who will get it to the winning bidder. This is a good option if you will not be available in the middle of December when the auction ends. If you are giving your item to an auction organizer, please indicate that (and who) when you send in your item description.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Editor Interview: Lyn Miller-Lachmann on MultiCultural Review

Learn about Lyn Miller-Lachmann, author and the editor-in-chief of MultiCultural Review.

How did you come to devote your professional life to literature for young readers?

I attended graduate school in the late 1970s to become an academic historian, but I quickly realized I didn't enjoy academic writing, and I spent more time in the library talking to friends than conducting research.

So I quit and became a high school history teacher in the New York City public schools. I loved teaching at the high school level and getting to know the kids and their stories, discussing books and movies with them, and thinking up creative ways of teaching history.

History, taught well, can feel like living inside a novel. And listening to my students gave me ideas for my own writing.

My first young adult novel, Hiding Places (Square One Publishers, 1987), about a teenage runaway in New York came from one of my students who told me how he was going to run away to live with his sister. But the sister didn't know about his plans, and I suspected that she wasn't in a position to take him in, which became the premise of the novel.

Hiding Places was published after I left New York City to live in Wisconsin, where my husband had found a job. But I returned often to the city to conduct writing workshops.

My interest in multicultural children's literature grew out of my original teaching in New York and the successful workshops I led after the publication of Hiding Places.

As I moved from writing young adult books to becoming a critic of both young adult and children's books, I had the support and guidance of Ginny Moore Kruse and K.T. Horning from the Cooperative Children's Book Center at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where I received my master's degree in library and information studies.

Ellen LiBretto, then the YA Coordinator at the Queens Library and the sponsor of many of my workshops, asked me to write a chapter for the third edition of her reference book The Hi/Lo Handbook (R.R. Bowker, 1990).

When R.R. Bowker, the publisher of the Hi/Lo Handbook, wanted a reference book on multicultural children's and YA literature, she recommended me as its editor, and that led to my compiling the award-winning multicultural bibliography Our Family, Our Friends, Our World: A Annotated Guide to Significant Multicultural Books for Children and Teenagers (R.R. Bowker, 1992).

Could you tell us a bit about the history of the journal? Its mission?

Brenda Mitchell-Powell, the onetime editor of Small Press magazine and Multicultural Librarian, founded MultiCultural Review in 1991 to publish articles and reviews on aspects of diversity in the United States and around the world.

The first issue debuted in spring 1992. Originally, the quarterly journal was published by the Greenwood Publishing Group--a publisher, primarily, of reference books. In 2002, Greenwood decided to concentrate on its core mission and sold MCR to the Goldman Group in Tampa, which publishes both consumer magazines and professional journals.

The mission of MCR, which is on all our letterhead, is "dedicated to a better understanding of ethnic, racial, and religious diversity." Over the years, we've expanded that mission to include sexual orientation and persons with disabilities/differently-abled to the extent that there is a culture surrounding different abilities, such as Deaf culture.

Who is the intended audience?

MCR is a professional journal for educators and librarians from early childhood to college. Our articles are written to be accessible to practitioners as well as scholars.

What led to your becoming Editor-in-Chief of MultiCultural Review?

After finishing Our Family, Our Friends, Our World, I became a reviewer of children's and young adult books for MultiCultural Review under Brenda Mitchell-Powell. When she stepped down as Editor-in-Chief at the end of 1994, the folks at Greenwood asked me if I was interested in taking over the editorial position.

What do you love about it and why?

I love working with all of the journal's feature writers and reviewers. I learn so much from them. I also enjoy shaping each issue, finding common themes, and working with authors to make their articles the best that they can be.

Rather than waiting for articles to come to me, I go out and find interesting things that are happening. I attend conferences, read blogs, and am always on the lookout for new perspectives on current and controversial issues.

What do you wish you could change about it and why?

I wish I could have more staff. I'm constantly behind in my work, and my office is a nightmare with piles of books I have to send out and papers I have to process and file.

Also, I work alone, and it would be fun to have someone else in the office, though it may mean both of us get less work done.

Why is there a need for a journal specifically focused on multicultural books?

Librarians and educators need a source devoted exclusively to diversity issues, with expert reviews and articles that cover books and other materials from mainstream publishers, independent publishers, and even those who have self-published.

Due to the historical marginalization of diverse cultures, major publishers were slow to present their stories and too often published inaccurate and stereotyped books written by outsiders.

Until the 1990s few authors of color were able to find mainstream publishers, and many broke into the industry by self-publishing--the late E. Lynn Harris being the best-known example.

MultiCultural Review considers all titles submitted for review on an equal footing, whether they're published by a large house, a small house, a university press, or self-published.

We're one of the few trade journals that will consider self-published books, and while we only review self-published books that we recommend, we review more than a dozen each year. It's part of our mission to cover diverse groups and all perspectives within them.

How do you select the books to be reviewed in the magazine?

First, publishers have to send me review copies of the books. And the books have to fit into the scope of the journal. They have to address some aspect of ethnic, racial, religious, and cultural diversity. In the case of religious books, they can't have an exclusively theological focus but rather should address life as a member of that faith tradition, or the interaction of multiple faith traditions.

MultiCultural Review reviews both adult and children's books. About a third of our reviews are of children's and young adult books, though more than half of our feature articles address some aspect of children's/young adult literature and/or teaching at the K-12 level.

With the adult books, we look for books that appeal to a general readership rather than those that address a narrow specialty--the exception being theoretical and practical guides to multicultural education and multicultural librarianship.

All of the review copies come to the editorial office, and I assign them to reviewers.

Occasionally, a reviewer will contact me to review a given book, and if I haven't already assigned the book, I usually let him or her do it. Some publishers don't send me review copies, which is very frustrating and unfair, especially to authors of color, who still have a tough time finding acceptance in the marketplace and risk getting dropped if their books don't sell well.

How do you select your reviewers? What credentials are necessary, preferred?

Most of our reviewers are educators-K-12 teachers, college professors, and graduate students--and librarians who specialize in the grade level and subject area. We also have many authors. In all, about 200 people have volunteered to review for MultiCultural Review.

We prefer that our reviewers are members of the group themselves or have a strong academic background in the history and culture of the group they cover. Many of our reviewers serve on awards committees related to the group or subject area, such as the ALA Coretta Scott King Book Awards committee.

What opportunities exist for writers to contribute to MultiCultural Review? Could you offer examples of articles for study?

We publish three-to-five feature articles per issue, and about half the issues focus on specific themes. Many of our articles are regular features, such as Isabel Schon's roundup of recommended books in Spanish for children and teenagers, or commissioned pieces.

However, about half of our articles are unsolicited or developed from queries. Recent articles that illustrate the variety of what we publish are Jane Mahar's interview with Tonya Bolden in the fall 2009 issue, Sandhya Nankani's excellent bibliographic essay on historical YA novels about India and the Indian Diaspora in the summer 2009 issue, and an annotated bibliography on picture books depicting biracial/multiracial heritage, forthcoming in our winter 2009 issue.

More globally, what are the most significant changes you've seen in multicultural children's-YA book publishing over the course of your career, and why do they matter?

There are many more opportunities for writers of color and writers of all backgrounds depicting diverse experiences. Although the situation isn't perfect, it's far better than in 1965, when Nancy Larrick published her groundbreaking essay “The All-White World of Children's Books.”

Awards like the Coretta Scott King and the Pura Belpré have launched the careers of African-American and Latino authors respectively. It's important to have these awards, which recognize outstanding books by authors of color, because it provides important name recognition that can move an author from the margins to the center.

In fact, when the Pura Belpré Award debuted in 1996, many of the winners were published by small ethnic publishers; since then, those and other winners have received the support of mainstream houses.

These changes matter because for young people of color multicultural literature serves as a mirror, reflecting their heritage, experiences, and achievements. Books honor their struggles--past and present, present role models, and encourage the development of new voices.

For those who have grown up with a sense of privilege, multicultural books offer crucial perspectives--essential for the development of empathy and critical thinking, as well as the capacity to live in a global world where white, English-speaking people are the minority.

Although there have been many gains over the years, the struggle continues. Today publishers and booksellers are fighting over a market that seems to be shrinking and changing in unpredictable ways (the rise of e-books being the most notable example), and thus sales to the largest possible audience and name recognition are increasingly crucial.

If multicultural books are seen as a niche market, many of the authors and titles will once again be relegated to smaller ethnic publishers and even university presses, which are starting to move into children's books.

If that is the case, activism on behalf of multicultural literature may move to the level of reviewers and book buyers (both individual and institutional) to give equal consideration to independently published books in what will become--as it already has in the recording industry--a highly fragmented marketplace.

Since its inception, MultiCultural Review has taken this approach, and I've been heartened by the critical reception my own novel, Gringolandia (Curbstone Press, 2009), has received, as well as the reception of Benjamin Alire Sáenz's Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood (Cinco Puntos Press, 2004; HarperCollins, 2006) and Marge Pellegrino's new middle grade novel about a family of Mayan refugees in 1980s Guatemala, Journey of Dreams (Frances Lincoln, 2009).

In addition to editing the journal, you're also a writer in your own right. What advice do you have for fellow writers who're trying to craft a cross-cultural topic/character/story?

Immerse yourself in the culture about which you write. Along with researching the culture through works of nonfiction and fiction, you should spend time with people from that culture. They should be your friends, and you should listen to their stories and observe carefully the details of their lives.

Then, before you send your cross-cultural writing out into the world, people from that culture should read it, and if they make suggestions-including “don't!”-you need to listen to those suggestions. This is even more critical if the experiences you seek to depict are painful ones.

Is there anything you would like to add?

I'd like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to write about MultiCultural Review and to let your readers know about this important journal. I'm fortunate to have a job I love and where I feel I can make an impact.

Last year I wrote an essay on my website/blog about the role of thirty years of multicultural education in making possible the election of the first biracial President of the United States. Even so, there's much more work to be done to guarantee every person in this country the same opportunity while embracing our diverse backgrounds and all that makes us unique.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Craft, Career & Cheer: Mahtab Narsimhan

Learn about Mahtab Narsimhan, and read her blog.

How do you psyche yourself up to write and to keep writing?

I set a reward before I start writing and will allow myself that reward only if I finish the quota for the day.

Normally that entails surfing the Net or writing a nice long e-mail to a friend; stuff that usually makes me feel extremely guilty if I have written nothing on any given day!

I’m very strict with myself. No quota=no reward.

On the other hand, when I finish the word count for the day and go a little over, that itself is a huge reward. I’m then compelled do it all over again the next day, just to feel that same sense of relief and accomplishment.

What is the one craft book that you refer to again and again? Why?

I find it difficult to limit it to one, so I'll mention two which I really like. They are Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Faith by Anne Lamott (Pantheon, 1994) and The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White (Pearson, 1919).

The former because it has the most practical (and amusing) advice I have ever read and the latter because it sums up all those common grammatical and other stylistic errors, succinctly.

However, no book can compare to the interaction with a mentor, especially one who is quite accomplished! I want to mention two stellar mentors I worked with last year and the one memorable piece of advice they gave me.

First, Tim Wynne-Jones. The first time I heard him quote Annie Dillard from The Writing Life (Harper, 1989), I thought it was lovely. I found it on Google, stored it someplace and forgot about it.

When I started working with him on a manuscript almost a year later, he again reminded me of it in reference to my plot. I still did not get it.

Only when I finished the course, put the manuscript away and looked at it again after a few months that I really and truly understood, what he was trying to say. Here’s the quote:

"One of the few things I have learned about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now...."

[Cyn Note: the quote continues gloriously, but its length exceeds fair use; get a copy of the book and read it for yourself.]

Next, Uma Krishnaswami.

I worked with Uma on the sequel to The Third Eye (Dundrun, 2007) titled The Silver Anklet (Dundrun, 2009). In the letter accompanying the very first packet, she asked me if I wanted to get off the ride. The critiques would be really tough; was I up to it?

I was, and they were tough…but it was one of the best learning experiences of my life.

Of all the advice she gave me, this bit I will never forget:

When in doubt, go deep instead of wide.

There is so much depth in that simple sentence. Another ball I must remember to keep in the air during the juggling act of writing.

Now when I rewrite, I look for opportunities to deepen a character rather than introduce another one that does little. It works, and the story is so much stronger.

Advice from a book or a mentor is just that: advice, until you internalize it, until the writing becomes instinctive, like riding a bike. I'm still practicing but find that I have to write fewer drafts with each successive novel.

When and where do you write? Why does that time and space work for you?

I’m an early bird and do most of my writing from 6.30 am to about 8.30 am. These couple of hours are enough to complete my daily quota of 1,500 words. On weekends, I push myself to about 2,000 words a day.

In the summer, I write in my basement. Sometimes I'll put on instrumental music and sometimes I write in silence. In winter, I'm normally in front of the fireplace looking out at my snow-covered backyard trying to pummel a story into existence.

I love the fact that on a good day, I’m done with my word-count, my homework, first thing in the morning, and then I have the rest of the day free to do other things! It’s also reassuring to know that if I'm behind on the word count for any reason, I have the rest of the day to catch up.

So far, what has been the highlight of your professional career? Why?

The day I stood in front of a crowd of 30,00 screaming kids at the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto and accepted the Silver Birch Fiction Award for my debut novel. 250,000 students participated in this Forest of Reading program across Ontario. It is a moment I have relived often, especially on the days when the words don't come easily.

This award is special because it was voted as best book by the very audience I was writing for. I couldn't have asked for a better start to my writing career.

Writing this first book was hard; it took four years, countless rejections and more than my body weight in chocolate. I came very, very close to giving up. Now of course I'm glad I didn't.

In your own words, could you tell us about your latest book?

The following is the back-copy for The Silver Anklet:

What if the only way to get rid of your worst enemy was to sacrifice your brother?
When hyenas snatch Tara's brother, Suraj, and two other children from the local fair in Morni, Tara and her newfound companions decide to rescue them on their own. Tara soon discovers that Zarku, her nemesis with the third eye, is back and intent on revenge.

A deadly game of hide and seek ensues, and Tara and her companions must work together to survive. But it is soon clear that Zarku is only after Tara; the others are dispensable.

Should Tara risk the lives of her friends? Or can she once again defeat Zarku and save her brother, armed only with belief in herself and a silver anklet?

This book once again draws on the theme of believing in yourself, of the strength within if only you can trust yourself.

To me, this also applies to the process of writing. Each novel is a new journey, a new adventure, and at the start I'm so afraid that I won’t be up to the task. I've just finished writing the third novel in this trilogy and started out with that same sense of unease and doubt looming over me. But by breaking down the task to a daily word count, I have a workable (and #$%*!) first draft. I’m happy.

Here’s my favourite quote and something I strive to live by:

"Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars." --Les Brown

Here's a video of Mahtab at the Forest of Reading Festival, talking about her award-winning debut novel.

Cynsational Notes

The Craft, Career & Cheer series features conversations with children's-YA book creators about positive aspects of their creative and professional lives.

WBBT: Writing the True with Cynthia Leitich Smith from HipWriterMama & CLS Book-of-Your-Choice Giveaway

WBBT: Writing the True with Cynthia Leitich Smith: an interview by Vivian at HipWriterMama. Note: Check out my deep thoughts on my publishing background, writing across formats, Native youth literature, writing cross-culturally, girl power & Gothics, true love, and a myriad of other topics.

Peek: "I’m always vaguely flabbergasted by folks who begin as fantasists because the burden is so much higher. You have to succeed at all of the same elements as you do in realistic fiction and, at the same time, craft a resonant, integral, and internally consistent fantasy element."

Thank you, Vivian! See Vivian's previous WBBT interviews with Jacqueline Kelly and Megan Whalen Turner. See a listing of all of today's WBBT interviews from Colleen Mondor at Chasing Ray. Note: being called a "literary firecracker" by Colleen totally made my week!

Cynsational WBBT Giveaway

In celebration of the Winter Blog Blast Tour, I'm offering a signed copy of any of my books (winner's choice) to one of the folks who thoughtfully comments at my WBBT interview and then emails me to let me know (so I have your contact information). Deadline: midnight CST Nov. 22.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Author & Illustrator Feature: Aaron Reynolds & Neil Numberman on Joey Fly, Private Eye

Aaron Reynolds is a human, not a bug, but he often writes about bugs. He is the author of: Chicks and Salsa, illustrated by Paulette Bogan (2005); Superhero School, illustrated by Randy Rash (2009); Buffalo Wings, illustrated by Paulette Bogan (2007)(all Bloomsbury); and, of course, the Joey Fly, Private Eye graphic novels (Henry Holt, 2009).

Neil Numberman is a termite currently residing in New York City. Joey Fly, Private Eye (Henry Holt, 2009) is his first graphic novel, but he is also the author-illustrator of the picture book Do NOT Build a Frankenstein (Greenwillow, 2009).

What was the spark for Joey Fly, Private Eye (Henry Holt, 2009)?

Aaron: I love bugs and I love mysteries, so this seemed to be a great smash-up of those two ideas.

What challenges did this graphic novel present?

Aaron: For me, the biggest challenge has not been with this book, or even the second (Joey Fly #2 is finished, and Neil is in the process of illustrating it now). It’s been deciding where I want to take these characters from here. Developing a series is tricky, because I want each book to stand alone, yet to mesh and gel with where the characters have been before.

Neil: For me, this was the biggest project I’ve ever been involved in by a long shot. The most I had ever done before this was some four-page comics and a thesis in school that involved about twenty pieces.

Making sure to keep the character design consistent throughout was a tedious process, too. To really polish a character, it can take hundreds and hundreds of drawings, because you need to work out all the aspects of that character that aren’t working.

Look at the early "Simpsons"! They look so weird!

So I tried to draw Sammy and Joey as much as I could before I started the pages.

How does writing and illustrating a graphic novel differ from writing and illustrating, say, a prose piece or traditional illustrated chapter book with black-and-white interiors?

Aaron: The writing is much different because I don’t write a manuscript like I would for a picture book. I write a script. Like, for a play or a movie. It looks like this:

Caption: And I was about to dig into a day-old corned leaf on rye, extra mayo…

Sammy: You gonna eat that?

Joey: Slow down, dustbuster. I haven’t even started yet.

Sammy: Just asking. (A shadow blocks our view)

Caption: …when a shadow fell across the table.

Shadow: You are Mr. Fly?

Caption: The shadow was eight-legged and fuzz-covered.

Caption: It had the stench of death…or maybe it was the week-old aphids on the all-you-can-eat buffet. It’s so hard to tell the difference sometimes.

That’s a sneak peek from Joey Fly 2: Big Hairy Drama. I write the whole book like that, including stage directions and details about the action along the way. Then I break the scenes into panels, the way I think each shot makes sense for the telling of the story…like this:


Joey: Slow down, dustbuster. I haven’t even started yet. Sammy: Just asking.

(a shadow blocks our view)

Caption: …when a shadow fell across the table.

Shadow: You are Mr. Fly?

So, the writing is much different than a picture book. The genre gives you much more room to stretch out and tell the story, much like a writer of novels must feel. But I get a better chance to develop a vision for the end product, because I know I’ll have picture telling the story too. So I can also include stage directions, character descriptions, descriptions of action sequences that come about through the story…stuff the reader will never see, but which guide the illustrator. It’s much more like writing a movie.

Neil: With spot illustration in prose, I get to select an important part of the story, and put a broad visual take on it. In a graphic novel, it’s important to the story to get everything across while pacing it well.

[Here's an interior from Joey Fly, Private Eye; used with permission.]

What advice you have for other authors/illustrators on the creative front?

Aaron: For my unpublished friends, I would say: Persistence is everything.

I got over 250 rejection letters (on different manuscripts, not all on the same story!) before I landed my first deal. And, even now, I still get them (371 to date, and counting). Got one last week, in fact (though, these days, my agent gets them instead of me!).

Rejection isn’t this horrible thing that you hope doesn’t happen, it is the way to publication. The path to successful publication is paved with rejection…I firmly believe that.

Neil: Know going into it that getting a book deal or a piece in a magazine can take a very, very long time. The first couple years might produce absolutely nothing except more personal pieces and free work, and the next couple years might still be spotty, and the next couple years after that might be grunt work, then some real work might come in, but maybe not!

If you love it, and it’s really what you want to do, then just enjoy going through the ringer.

What were the challenges of placing this project?

Aaron: Well, it wasn’t accepted by Henry Holt as-is. It was originally a short novel. But the editor saw it as a graphic novel, and I liked that idea since I had worked on graphic novels before on my series Tiger Moth, Insect Ninja (Capstone) (lots of bugs in my book, I’m realizing). So, I had to re-write the whole book as a graphic novel.

Sometimes you are asked to do a lot of work before you even have a deal, so you have to make sure you really like the new idea before committing all the time on something that could just as easily end up a rejection.

For me, this was a no-brainer. Joey Fly was meant to be a graphic novel, and as soon as my editor suggested it, I knew it was right.

Neil: Henry Holt just knew we’d be a good fit for this project, and I couldn’t be happier!

How did you two get connected?

Aaron: Like most book arrangements, it was through the publisher. I never met, spoke, or even e-mailed to Neil until after the book was released.

In fact, when I first saw Neil’s illustrations…I was not in love with them. I had my doubts about whether a main character who has no mouth and no pupils in his eyeballs could sustain a whole graphic novel. Thankfully, my editor p’shawed my objections and went ahead with Neil anyway.

I’m so glad she did! I can’t imagine Joey any other way…Neil’s handle on the characters and the world he’s created for them is so spot on! You learn to trust the process, your editor, and these other gifted artists that you get thrown into the mix with. It’s a cool thing.

How are you going about connecting the final book to kids and gatekeepers like educators, parents, and teachers?

Aaron: I love being with kids and hearing from them and getting their reactions. So I do as many school visits as I can. Visiting librarians and teachers, either at conferences or on blogs like this are also great chances to connect folks to the book.

I’m thrilled to see the embrace that librarians are giving graphic novels these days as a vital and valuable genre. To see libraries opening up whole sections for this exciting visual book medium is very exciting.

Neil: I’ve been traveling all over place getting the word out about Joey Fly, from small book stores in Connecticut to libraries in Hawaii. I love getting kids to draw Joey and Sammy, and then creating their own bug characters for Bug City!

What can your fans can expect from you next?

Aaron: More Joey Fly is on the way! I also have a mock-horror picture book coming out called Evil Carrots about a bunny who thinks he’s being stalked by sinister root vegetables.

Neil: Well, my first picture book just came out in time for Halloween, called Do NOT Build a Frankenstein! (Greenwillow, 2009), and I’m currently hard at work on Joey Fly 2, which I’ll be wrapping up soon!

Cynsational Notes

Joey Fly Activity Guide (PDF file) from Macmillan.

Follow Joey Fly and Sammy Stingtail on Twitter.

Watch the Joey Fly: Creepy Crawly Crime Book Trailer. Really, you'll love it.

Sanguine is Now Available in France

Sanguine (AKA Tantalize) is now available from Editions Intervista.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Craft, Career & Cheer: Debby Dahl Edwardson

Learn more about Debby Dahl Edwardson.

What do you love most about your creative life? Why?

What I love most about writing is that wonderful alchemy that turns words on a page into complete worlds, places that become so real we can smell the trees and hear the voices.

I especially like it when a character jumps right off the page and says or does something that takes me, the writer, by surprise. This is the part of writing that most excites me.

Like our readers, we writers learn things through our own writing, things we may not have come to otherwise.

When teaching writing courses, I like to quote poet William Stafford who said, "A writer is not so much someone who has something to say as he is someone who has found a process that will bring about new things he would not have thought if he had not started to say them."

The fact that writing is a journey, not a destination, is what keeps me writing, I think. Even as writers, we often don't understand certain things about our books and their relationship to our lives until long after we've written them.

In On Writing by Stephen King (Scribner, 2000), King remembers writing The Tommyknockers (Putnam, 1987) as he struggled with addiction. It's a story about alien creatures who get into peoples' heads giving them energy and superficial intelligence in exchange for their souls.

"It was the best metaphor for drugs and alcohol my tired overstressed mind could come up with," King realizes in retrospect.

I like that. I like the fact that our work takes on a life of its own and makes commentary on our world--and the world or our readers—in ways of which we, in our conscious ramblings, are sometimes only dimly aware, if we are aware of it at all. This is very powerful and ultimately quite hopeful, I think.

We tend to get so caught up in the insecurity of writing as a business, that we lose sight of the bigger picture. It's important to find joy in the process, learning the lessons it has to offer.

And to speak for a moment specifically about writing for children and young adults, I have to say that part of the reason I love writing for this audience is because I remember, vividly, my own experience as a young reader, spending days gloriously lost in books, an experience that gets harder and harder to replicate as I become older, more care-ridden and more craft conscious.

I remember being told, repeatedly, "get your nose out of that book!" The implication was that I was so busy reading I was missing life, when in fact reading, for me, was life—heightened life, life condensed into its essential elements.

It's taken me over fifty years, in fact, to understand the deep reaching effects that certain childhood books have had on who I am and what I believe. To be one of the ones writing for this audience is, quite simply, an incredible honor.

So far, what has been the highlight of your professional career? Why?

In thinking about this, I have to say the highlight of my career has been the apprenticeship I served as a student at Vermont College of Fine Arts. I don't say this to make a plug for VCFA, but only to acknowledge that working with the caliber of people I worked with at Vermont has been, and will likely remain, the highlight of my career.

Writing is a lonely business. Before you publish, it feels like a guilty secret, and even after you publish, it's still a very private thing, a thing "normal" people sometimes just don't get. Now I'm part of a writing community that spans the world, and the feeling of connection this gives is critical for me.

In my graduation speech at VCFA, I quoted Kurt Vonnegut, who said once that, "every human endeavor is about the search for family." Finding a writing family is crucial work for a writer and finding the right family is, indeed, one of the highlights of one's career.

As a young public radio reporter in 1983, I covered an award ceremony for the Alaskan Women's Commission in which an elderly Inupiaq woman, Sadie Neakok, was being recognized for serving her community as a magistrate for many years. "The support of my townspeople," she said, "that was the most important thing."

I remember this quote vividly all these years later, because I recognize the impulse. The town gets bigger and bigger but that support continues to be the most important thing.

In your own words, could you tell us about your latest book?

Blessing's Bead (Melanie Kroupa Books/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009) grew from another interview I did as a radio reporter.

I was covering a meeting of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference in 1986. ICC represents the Inuit of Alaska, Canada, Greenland, and Russia, and 1986 was the first year the Russian Inuit had been allowed to attend.

An elderly Yupik woman I interviewed remembered how, when she was a small child, the Russian Inuit had visited her village annually. Some of the people of the village had married Siberian Inuit and gone to live in Russia. By the time I interviewed her, there were families that had been separated for nearly 40 years.

This woman left me with an image I never forgot: the image of old women, standing on the western shores of an arctic island, gazing towards Russia with tears in their eyes. This image became the impetus for Blessing’s Bead, which is a novel told in two parts.

The first part tells of two sisters, separated by marriage. The year is 1917, the eve of great influenza pandemic and the narrator is the younger sister.

The second part of the book is narrated by the Nutaaq's great granddaughter Blessing, whose life is in the midst of upheaval. The year is 1986.

Simply put, Blessing's Bead is story is about the healing power of family and culture.

What can your fans look forward to next?

I have just finished a novel told in linked stories and many voices about the Alaskan boarding school experience entitled, My Name is Not Easy. I'm also working on a novel entitled No Word for Goodbye, which employs what might be labeled as the techniques of magical realism.

In my mind, though, it’s a novel that uses traditional Inupiaq beliefs, which are still very real, to tell a contemporary story that has mythic elements. The main character is a biracial boy who is dealing with issues very familiar to me as the mother of seven biracial children.

Cynsational Notes

Debby has joined the faculty of, teaching First Steps: Introduction to Writing for Children and Picture Book Workshop: Writing Text for Children's Picture Books. See more information.

Debby and fellow author Nancy Bo Flood hosted a week-long discussion of Native Characters & Themes in Youth Literature from Nov. 9 to Nov. 15 at Through the Tollbooth. Posts include Native American Spirituality in Children's Books.

Uncommon Sense- Author Debby Dahl Edwardson and Her Process from Tami Lewis Brown at Through the Tollbooth.

Blessing's Bead: An Interview with Debby Edwardson by Carol Brendler at Jacket Knack.

The Craft, Career & Cheer series features conversations with children's-YA book creators about positive aspects of their creative and professional lives.
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