Friday, April 09, 2010

Ming Doyle to Illustrate Tantalize: Kieren's Story by Cynthia Leitich Smith


I'm thrilled to announce that Ming Doyle is in the process of illustrating the interior art for my upcoming graphic novel, Tantalize: Kieren's Story (Candlewick, Feb. 2011).

The graphic novel is set during the same time as the Tantalize prose novel (Candlewick, 2007, 2008), is told from the character Kieren Morales's point of view, and includes several new scenes.

My editor was kind enough to share with me Ming's early sketches, and wow! What a treat to see Quincie, Kieren, Brad, and Sanguini's: A Very Rare Restaurant brought to life. Ming absolutely "gets" the world and its players while bringing her own fresh energy and perspective.

According to her bio, Ming is originally from Boston, the daughter of an Irish American sailor and a Chinese Canadian librarian. She's a 2007 graduate of Cornell with a dual concentration in painting and drawing. She says, "I am currently working on art all night and every day. I would probably love an espresso."

Visit Ming's site and she was like, (her LJ).

Check out this terrific artlapse video showing Ming in action.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Enter to win a paperback copy of Shifty by Lynn E. Hazen (Tricycle, 2010). From the promotional copy:

Fifteen-year-old Shifty knows all about moving around and next to nothing about where he came from. When he's assigned to a new foster home and family, he tries hard to keep cool and stay out of trouble.

But it seems like the more he tries to do the right thing, the more trouble he finds.

As Shifty navigates a series of messy summer adventures, he struggles to find a balance between the street-wise spirit that has helped him survive and his longing for a place to call home.

Lynn E. Hazen has created a fast-paced, page-turning plot full of surprises and warmth.

To enter the giveaway, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type "Shifty" in the subject line. Facebook, JacketFlap, MySpace, and Twitter readers are welcome to just privately message me with the title in the header or RT or comment on this round-up; I'll write you for contact information, if you win. Deadline: midnight CST April 30. Note: U.S. entries only. See also a Cynsations interview with Lynn.

The Happiest Day Giveaway

Enter to win The Happiest Day: A Yoga Story by Uma Krishnaswami, illustrated by Ruth Jeyaveeran (Lee & Low, 2008) from Writing with a Broken Tusk. From the promotional copy:

Meena is excited about the class play, a new and improved version of Red Riding Hood. But when she learns that she must play one of the trees in the forest, Meena's excitement vanishes. She is just too clumsy to be a quiet, steady tree.

One day at the Indian grocery store, Meena sees a yoga class in progress, and the store owner convinces her to try the children's class. Little does Meena know she is about to find a way to grow from the inside out, just like a tree, and move beyond her feelings of clumsiness and frustration.

The Happiest Tree is a gentle and empowering story of a young girl's road to self-confidence. It is sure to spark interest in yoga, and provide comfort to all children as they struggle to overcome the everyday obstacles to growing up.

Learn more about the book from Uma at Lee & Low. Note: The giveaway is in celebration of National Public Health Week. See also a Cynsations interview with Uma.

More News

The Asian Festival of Children's Content will take place May 6 to May 8 at the Arts House in Singapore. Peek: "This year's ACWIC is expected to attract a large number of writers, teachers, illustrators, librarians, publishers and distributors of children's content from Asia and other parts of the world. Over 70 renowned speakers from 15 countries will be presenting more than 100 workshops and panel discussions at this Festival." Note: the program will feature the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference, which will include tracks such as New Media Technologies and Children's Content; Alchemy of Writing; Illustrators' Palette; The Librarians' Menu; and The Publishers' Daily Bread. Speakers include Uma Krishnaswami.

Terms to Know: Abbreviations by Eric from Pimp My Novel. Peek: "All industries are full of jargon, gentle readers, and publishing is no exception. To make it doubly confounding, however, many of these oft-repeated jargon-filled phrases are abbreviated or transformed into acronyms, which renders the proverbial (already murky) waters utterly opaque."

The End of History (Books) by Marc Aronson from The New York Times. Peek: "Either we change the way we deal with copyrights — or works of nonfiction in a multimedia world will become ever more dull and disappointing." Read a Cynsations interview with Marc.

See also Marc on Young Men and Reading (about 30 minutes)(more thoughts). Marc also discusses his own books. See also Guys Lit Wire and Guys Read.



Definitions for the Perplexed: Royalties, Advances, and Earning Out from Editorial Anonymous. Peek: "An advance is an approximation of what the publisher thinks your book will earn you in royalties in (perhaps) a year."

Silence by Brian Yansky from Brian's Blog - Writer Talk. Peek: "Sometimes it’s critical voices saying I can’t write about this or a voice saying that no one will want to read my manuscript." See also a Cynsations interview with Brian.

Author/Illustrator Tip: regardless of whatever degree we embrace it, our bylines are our brands, and positive brands fare far better than negative. Think before you rant online or off. If you decide to go ahead, write the draft and then let it sit for a couple of days before you push "publish." If you're still unsure, ask a trusted pal to read it first.

Saltypie: A Choctaw Journey from Darkness into Light, by Tim Tingle, illustrated by Karen Clarkson: a recommendation by Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children's Literature. Peek: "One of the stories Tim told is about his grandmother's years at Tuskahoma Academy, a boarding school for American Indian girls. The color palette on the page for that story is, appropriately, a somber blue. There, Mawmaw as a young child, stands, looking wistful, stuck at the school at Christmas time. That illustration is exceedingly powerful. Actually, it is only one of many illustrations in the book that are astounding in what they convey."

Young Adult Authors Agent Bullying at facebook. Peek: "This group was created for Young Adult authors and readers to come together and put an end to bullying. Victims of bullying do not need to feel like they are alone. We are creating a platform for your stories. We are creating a safe haven for your concerns. We encourage all YA authors to become a part of this group, so that we can provide updates, mission statements, action items and simple ways to spread the anti-bullying cause. Please join our fight to end bullying and to give a voice to those who cannot or are too afraid to be heard." See also A List of YA Novels that Battle Bullying compiled by Mitali Perkins from Mitali's Fire Escape.

Old Manuscript: Two Questions Before Starting to Revise by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. Peek: "Maybe, when you originally started a story, you didn’t have the skills necessary to do a story justice. But you’re at a different place now. Are you ready to tackle it?" Read a Cynsations interview with Darcy.

How to Layer Points of View by Mary Kole from Kidlit.com. Peek: "A lot of adult writers want to reinforce to teen readers that adults have problems and to be more sympathetic to them. Probably because they’re raising teens at the time and feel unappreciated. This is not the way to help teen readers empathize because this type of moralizing usually doesn’t get published and reach teen readers." Note: the standard caution applies--if breaking the rule works, do it. But this is an interesting point, and in considering it, I can think of several books that integrate adult POV, but only a couple that do so successfully.

Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Tao Nyeu by Jules from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Peek: "Bunny Days (Dial, 2010) features three slapstick tales of six curious rabbits; one paternal, ever-patient, and very wise Bear; and Mr. and Mrs. Goat, who are simply about their chores in the countryside, only to have their plans foiled by the inquisitive rabbits. The writing is good, and there’s a lot of humor, but it’s Nyeu’s stylized art that really stands out, what Publishers Weekly once described as possessing an 'Art Nouveau-meets-psychedelic feel.'"

Building the Framework for Your Authorial Success from QueryTracker. Peek: "Put your name, first and last, on your blog. Near the top, so it is one of the first things people see. And if you are agented, say so, mentioning your agent by name. It’s good publicity for both of you."

Expectations: Looking Back by Candace Havens from Genreality. Peek: "I thought when I sold that first book that was it. The truth is, that’s when the work really begins." Source: Elizabeth Scott.

GottaBook Blog by Gregory K. Pincus: an endorsement from School Library Journal. Peek: "Jacqueline Woodson, Walter Dean Myers, and Kathi Appelt are just some of the writers who’ll take part in 30 Poets/30 Days, a celebration of children's poetry during National Poetry Month. Every day in April, author Gregory K. Pincus’s GottaBook blog and Twitter site will feature a previously unpublished poem by a different poet—and it’s completely free and open 24/7."

Kristin Walker: Your Inner Critic is a Jerk from Teenreads.com. Peek: "Cracking the whip on the inner critic can be like trying to stand an eel on end, but it’s essential for a writer to do."

Barahona Center for the Study of Books in Spanish for Children and Adolescents features recommended books in Spanish, recommended books about Latinos in English, professional books, and more.

Sweetheart Jessica Lee Anderson: Interview & Giveaway by P.J. Hoover from Roots in Myth. Comment to win a copy of Border Crossing (Milkweed, 2009). Read a Cynsations interview with P.J. and Jessica.

Agent-Requested Revisions: An Interview with Literary Agent Joan Paquette by Mary Lindsey from Query Tracker. Peek: "Don't be afraid to take all the time you need to do a thorough revision; get some additional readers; let it sit a while and then come back to it with fresh eyes." Read a Cynsations interview with Ammi-Joan (same agent).

More Personally

Highlights of the week included tea at Bennu Coffee in East Austin with Greg (in the cap), Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA students Meredith Davis (in white), Sean Petrie (in blue) and Anne Bustard (in orange). The guest of honor was my fellow VCFA faculty member (and National Book Award finalist) Martine Leavitt (in black) in town from Canada.

How 21 of Your Favorite YA Authors are Spending Their Easter Day! from Reading Teen. Holiday insights from me, Ellen Hopkins, Heather Brewer, R.J. Anderson, Claudia Gray, Lesley Livingston, and many more! See also a peek at my Easter festivities below!



Central Texas is so magical right now. Here's one of the many wildflowers in my back yard.

More Giveways

Enter to win a copy of Athena the Brain and/or Persephone the Phony from the Goddess Girls series by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams (Aladdin, 2010-)! To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address in the body of the message. Type "Athena the Brain" or "Persephone the Phony" in the subject line, depending on which you'd prefer. Facebook, JacketFlap, MySpace, and Twitter readers are welcome to comment, message, or RT; I'll write you for contact information, if you win. Yes, you can enter to win both books! But please send two separate emails/comments/RTs, following the instructions above. Read a Cynsations guest post by Joan and Suzanne.

Enter to win Vampireology: A Genuine and Moste Authentic Ology (Candlewick, 2010)! To enter the giveaway, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type "Vampireology" in the subject line. Facebook, JacketFlap, MySpace, and Twitter readers are welcome to just privately message me with the title in the header or RT or comment on this round-up; I'll write you for contact information, if you win. Deadline: midnight CST April 30. Note: U.S. entries only.

In celebration of the 10-year anniversary of Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu (Morrow/HarperCollins, 2000), enter to win a copy the book! To enter the giveaway, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type "Jingle Dancer" in the subject line. Facebook, JacketFlap, MySpace, and Twitter readers are welcome to comment, RT, or privately message me with the title in the header; I'll write for contact information, if you win. Deadline: midnight CST April 11. Note: U.S. entries only; sponsored by HarperCollins.

Cynsational Events

The Greater Houston Teen Book Convention is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 10 at Alief Taylor High School, and admission is free! Speakers include keynoter Sharon Draper and Cynthia Leitich Smith.

The Texas Library Association Annual Conference will be April 14 to April 17 at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in San Antonio. Note: I'll be speaking from 1 p.m. to 1:50 p.m. on the "A Conversation Between Books and Technology" panel with Jay Asher, Corey Doctorow, Maureen Johnson, and Jude Watson. Then I'll sign books from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. See a schedule of Austin authors at TLA.

Release party - author Chris Barton will celebrate Shark v. Train, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld (Little Brown, 2010) at 1 p.m. April 24 at BookPeople in Austin. Read a Cynsations interview with Chris.


Moments of Change: the New England SCBWI Conference will take place May 14 to May 16 in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. See conference schedule, workshop descriptions, manuscript critique guidelines, and special conference offerings. See faculty bios. Note: I'm honored to be participating as a keynote speaker!

SCBWI Florida: Mid-Year Workshop and Intensives will be June 4 and June 5 at Disney's Coronada Springs Resort at Walt Disney World. Note: I'm honored to be leading the marketing track with author/social media consultant Greg Pincus and Ed Masessa, author and Senior Manager Product Development, Scholastic Book Fairs. Picture book, middle grade, YA, and series tracks also are available.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The 10th Anniversary of Jingle Dancer

My first book, Jingle Dancer, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu (Morrow/HarperCollins), was published ten years ago. From the promotional copy:

Jenna, a contemporary Native American girl in Oklahoma, wants to honor a family tradition by jingle dancing at the next powwow. But where will she find enough jingles for her dress?

A warm family story, beautifully evoked in Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu's watercolor art.


I wrote the book for a lot of reasons.

First, I wanted to share a daily-life story about a contemporary Native girl.

So many Native-themed children's books, to this day, are historicals. And I love a great historical story, but the balance had tipped too far in that direction. It suggested that Native people existed only in the past, which is not true. We are citizens of Nations with a past, a present, and a future.

And though I was open to (and later pursued) telling stories with boy heroes, it seemed that the body of youth literature heavily favored fictional Native boys over fictional Native girls.

Jingle Dancer is a story of love, reciprocity, and tradition. It's also specific, reflecting a Muscogee (Creek)-Anishinabe (Ojibwe/Chippewa) girl from small-town Oklahoma.

The illustrations reflect diversity within Native America by including characters who're also of European and African-American heritage. In fact, it's one of the few books reflecting Black Indian characters wherein their ethnicity is incorporated without commentary.

The story also offers a wider socioeconomic view of Native folks than we normally see in children's books. The main characters include a young attorney.

Above all, it's the story of Jenna, Grandma Wolfe, Great-aunt Sis, Mrs. Scott, and Cousin Elizabeth. And of course a jingle dress!

The book was dedicated to my much-beloved Great-aunt Anne, who sadly is no longer with us. I had the privilege of living with her when I was younger. And oh, my! We had such fun. I hope that when young readers turn the pages, they feel the love we shared.

And finally, I'm forever appreciative of the efforts and caring exhibited by the amazing illustration team and our wonderful editor.

From the Illustration Team


Hi Cynthia:

I can’t believe it’s been 10 years since Jingle Dancer was published. But the evidence stares back at me when I look at the photos we (Ying-Hwa and I) took of the jingle dancers at a powwow we attended as a family.

Our kids were in some of the pictures, and they were waist high. Now they are as tall (my son taller) then we are.

Of the different kinds of books we had the privilege to illustrate, there are a handful that made the joy-to-illustrate list. Jingle Dancer is one of them.

As mentioned above, we researched and became familiar with the jingle dance as a family. Not just the day at the powwow, speaking with many of the participants, but also on trips to the National Museum of American Indian.

Aside from having a great time illustrating Jingle Dancer was the later benefit of watching your explosive growth (as an author) and witnessing the abundant energy and resources of your blog and website.

You also very much impacted our daughter when she found out we knew the author of Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001). She loved that book.

A true hope of mine is to one day illustrate another book by Cynthia Leitich Smith.

You are great!

All the best,
Cornelius (& Ying-Hwa)

From the Editor

Happy Anniversary, Jenna!

When Cynthia asked me to write something for the tenth anniversary of Jingle Dancer, her first book, I was thrilled. Ten years!

Since it had been a while since I’d read the book, I sat down to reread it. Tears came to my eyes, and I got goosebumps. What an absolutely perfect picture book this still is, after ten years, with such a sympathetic main character and a compelling storyline.

I have always loved the way this book evokes the importance of family, friends, and community—how people together can accomplish something that one person cannot.

Cyn and I started working together in 1997, when she submitted a manuscript called "Something Bigger" to me. There was something in this story about contemporary Native Americans that I just loved, and Cyn had a fresh, exciting new voice.

Then she sent me a picture book manuscript called "Jenna, Jingle Dancer," which was eventually titled just "Jingle Dancer."

I fell in love with the story right away—-again, Cyn’s voice and lyrical language were wonderful, and I very much welcomed a story about a contemporary Native girl, with not a stereotype in sight.

I acquired Jingle Dancer at Lodestar Books, which was a imprint of Dutton Children’s Books. I received a revision of the manuscript on April 9, and Cyn’s wonderful agent, Ginger Knowlton, had an offer in hand by the end of April. I had to have this book!

Then, in August 1997, the Lodestar imprint was shut down. Cyn kindly followed me to Morrow Junior Books, where I published the book. (Her next two books were published by HarperCollins, which bought Morrow. Same editor, three publishing houses!)

Editorially, the manuscript was in fine shape when it came in. I said in my letter to Cyn, “The changes I made in the manuscript are to smooth out the writing, and they are minor. I think the story is in great shape. You write well, and every word counts—which is just as a picture book should be.”

Most of the work was on the author’s note and glossary, which we both felt were so important to have in this book. Cyn thought of including a recipe for fry bread but worried (okay, she’s a former lawyer!) that frying the bread is a messy business, and a child could get burned.

As soon as I signed up the manuscript, I contacted Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu. I’d worked with them before, and I thought they would be the perfect illustrators for this book, with their soft watercolors and ability to draw appealing, realistic characters.

Cyn was quite involved with the art, as we wanted to get it just right. She generously sent me packages to pass along to the artists: a video of jingle-dancing, a craft magazine that featured making jingle dresses, photos of houses and neighborhoods from towns within the borders of Muscogee Nation in Oklahoma.

And have you noticed how many characters in the book are wearing glasses? That’s deliberate: Native Americans are almost never depicted wearing glasses in any media. It was time to change that.

When Cyn received the F&G’s (folded and gathered, print sheets) of the book, she said she felt as though she’d made a trip to family in Oklahoma. I was so pleased!

I’m proud to have published this very, very special book, and the fact that it was Cynthia’s first means a great deal to me.

Happy anniversary, Cyn and Jenna!

Rosemary Brosnan, HarperCollins Children's Books

Awards and Honors

NCSS Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies and a Selector's Choice for 2001;

Named to the 2001 2 x 2 Reading List of twenty books recommended for children ages two through second grade by the Texas Library Association;

One of five finalists for the children's/YA division of the Oklahoma Book Award;

Runner-up for the Storyteller Award from the Western Writers Association;

Named a CCBC Choice for 2001;

Debuts That Deliver (Book Magazine);

Editor's Choice, Library Talk;

Featured in Great Books About Things Kids Love by Kathleen Odean;

2002 Read Across Texas Bibliography (Texas State Library and Archives Commission).

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win a copy of Jingle Dancer! To enter the giveaway, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type "Jingle Dancer" in the subject line. Facebook, JacketFlap, MySpace, and Twitter readers are welcome to comment, RT, or privately message me with the title in the header; I'll write for contact information, if you win. Deadline: midnight CST April 11. Note: U.S. entries only; sponsored by HarperCollins.

10,000 Books To Be Delivered to Teens on Native Reservations and Tribal Lands

Nationwide, scores of young adult authors and librarians to drop books on April 15 AKA Support Teen Literature Day


Operation Teen Book Drop will deliver 10,000 new books to teens on Native reservations and tribal lands, an event that coincides with Support Teen Literature Day.

In addition, more than 100 top young adult authors will leave their books in public places for young readers to discover, and members of the public can buy books online and have them shipped to tribal libraries.

Publishers donated the books, valued at more than $175,000.

“These publishers have shown astounding vision and generosity by supporting Operation Teen Book Drop,” said readergirlz co-founder Dia Calhoun, an award-winning novelist herself. “Now underserved teens can benefit from the current explosion of high quality YA books. These teens can see their own experience, their tragedies and their triumphs in these books, books that become shining doorways to the young human spirit.”

The donations are especially significant to many Native teens. “In their lives, they really don’t have new books,” said Mary Nickless, the librarian at Ojo Encino Day School, one of 44 institutions that will benefit from Operation TBD.

A nationwide effort of authors, publishers, librarians and readers

In its third year, Operation TBD is part of a massive effort by librarians, young adult authors, and avid readers to spur reading on a nationwide scale. The day aims to encourage teens to read for the fun of it.

The effort is coordinated by readergirlz, the Young Adult Library Services Association, GuysLitWire, and a new partner, If I Can Read, I Can Do Anything, a national reading club for Native children.

• More than 100 young adult authors—including David Levithan, Sara Zarr, and Cynthia Leitich Smith—are participating by leaving copies of their books in public places for teens to find.

• Teens and other fans of YA literature are also invited to “rock the drop.”

GuysLitWire has created a wish list of 750 books that supporters can buy from Powells.com. Beginning April 7, these purchases can be made and sent directly to one of two tribal school libraries, Ojo Encino Day School or Alchesay High School.

In 2008 and 2009, the groups coordinated the delivery of 20,000 new books to teens in hospitals.

“Operation TBD was originally conceived with the hope of reaching a number of teen groups,” said readergirlz co-founder Lorie Ann Grover. “While we donated books to hospitalized teens for two years, I was personally compelled to donate books to the local Muckleshoot Indian Tribe. We were thrilled to discover we could broaden this effort with If I Can Read and gift TBD to our second targeted group, Native teens.”

“By making Operation TBD part of Support Teen Literature Day, YALSA and its partners help raise awareness of the importance of teen literature to all teens,” said Linda W. Braun, YALSA President. “Our thanks to the publishers, If I Can Read I Can Do Anything, readergirlz and Guys Lit Wire for joining us in supporting such a worthy cause.”

Participating publishers this year include Abrams Books; Bloomsbury/Walker Books; Candlewick Press; Chronicle Books; Hachette Book Group; Boyds Mills Press; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; Milkweed; Mirrorstone Books; Orca Book Publishers; Scholastic; Simon & Shuster Children's Publishing; Tor/Forge/Starscape/Tor Teen; Roaring Brook Press; and Better World Books.

Everyone who participates in Operation TBD is invited to celebrate at the TBD Post-Op Party on April 15 at the readergirlz blog.

Cynsational Notes



About Support Teen Literature Day

In its fourth year, Support Teen Literature Day is April 15, and will be celebrated in conjunction with ALA’s National Library Week. Librarians across the country are encouraged to participate in Support Teen Literature Day by hosting events in their libraries. The celebration raises awareness that young adult literature is a vibrant, growing genre with much to offer today’s teens. Support Teen Literature Day also seeks to showcase award-winning authors and books in the genre, as well as highlight librarians’ expertise in connecting teens with books and other reading materials.

About the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA)

For more than 50 years, YALSA has been the world leader in selecting books, videos, and audiobooks for teens.

About GuysLitWire

Guys Lit Wire brings literary news and reviews to the attention of teenage boys and the people who care about them. Working to combat the perception that teen boys aren’t as well read as teen girls, the organization seeks out literature uniquely targeted toward teen male readers in hopes of bringing attention of good books to guys who might have missed them.

About If I Can Read, I Can Do Anything

If I Can Read, I Can Do Anything is a national reading club for Native children directed by Dr. Loriene Roy. The program works to encourage reading among Native children by offering incentives, sending books to schools, and sponsoring activities.

About readergirlz

readergirlz is the foremost online book community for teen girls, led by critically acclaimed YA authors—Dia Calhoun (Avielle of Rhia), Lorie Ann Grover (Hold Me Tight), Justina Chen Headley (North of Beautiful), Holly Cupala (Tell Me a Secret), Liz Gallagher (The Opposite of Invisible), Elizabeth Scott (The Unwritten Rule) and Melissa Walker (Lovestruck Summer).

readergirlz is the recipient of a 2007 James Patterson PageTurner Award and a 2009 Innovations in Reading Prize from the National Book Foundation.

To promote teen literacy and leadership in girls, readergirlz features a different YA novel and corresponding community service project every month, and offers chats with authors and an author-in-residency program for aspiring writers.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Guest Post: Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams on the Goddess Girls series

Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams are co-authors of the new Goddess Girls series (Aladdin, 2010-).

These middle-grade books include Athena the Brain (April 2010)(excerpt), Persephone the Phony (April 2010), Aphrodite the Beauty (August 2010), and Artemis the Brave (December 2010).

Suzanne: The Goddess Girls series began with a conversation over dinner. Joan asked if I might like to collaborate on something. I agreed, and about the time Rick Riordan’s Lightning Thief (Hyperion, 2005)--the first book in his Percy Jackson and the Olympians series--debuted, we were putting the finishing touches on the proposal for Goddess Girls.

It took a while for Aladdin to decide to buy our proposal, which is a tween series loosely and humorously based on myth and starring four major goddessgirls: Athena, Persephone, Aphrodite, and Artemis (whom we originally named "Diana" until our editor pointed out that though "Diana" is the better-known name for this goddess, it is her Roman name.)

Our lovely leading ladies attend fictional Mount Olympus Academy, where the commanding yet bumbling Zeus is principal, and where hunky godboys like Ares and Hades, add an element of light romance.

Joan [her bookshelves include two rows of mythology titles]:

Writing about tweenage Greek goddesses and gods was a blast. We tossed our egos out the window and mercilessly rewrote each other's work until the series began to sound as if one author had written it.

We discussed some things up front: Should all details about clothing, food, settings, etc. be clearly rooted in Ancient Greek times, or could we incorporate a few modern elements? How should our characters speak? Should all character names come from mythology, or could some names be made up? What magical elements could we introduce and still keep to the spirit of Greek myth?

Suzanne: We decided to make things easy for our age 8-12 readers (and ourselves!) by having our goddessgirls and godboys speak like "regular kids," with an occasional god-worthy exclamation thrown in. (“Yegods!” “Godness!")

Other challenges we solved as we went along.

In very early drafts of Book 1, Athena the Brain, Athena communicated with her friend Pallas by shellphone, and packed lots of books when she left her Earth home for Mount Olympus.

And in a trip to the Underworld in Book 2, Persephone the Phony, we had Persephone encountering two clipboard-wielding brothers whose job it is to keep track of the new souls entering.

Though we wound up keeping some modern elements (there’s a filing cabinet in Zeus’s office, and an intercom), we eventually disposed of the shellphone, changed “books” to scrolls or papyrus sheets, and got rid of the clipboards.

Mostly, we tried to give readers the flavor of Ancient Greece without overwhelming them with too many unfamiliar or unwieldy details. In keeping with Ancient Greece, our goddessgirls wear chitons, our godboys, tunics. But the foods they eat in the school cafeteria are fanciful creations like yambrosia (a stew), and nectaroni and cheese.

Joan: The myths themselves suggested the personalities of our characters and helped us plot our stories. Athena is the goddess of wisdom, among other things, so she’s the brainy goddessgirl. An over-achiever in fact, who tries to juggle too much (cheer, extra-credit projects, a big course-load) in order to keep up with the other amazing goddess girls and godboys she meets at MOA (Mount Olympus Academy).

Since the Persephone of myth divides her time between Mount Olympus and the Underworld, it made sense to us that her personality might reflect those places, and that she might struggle to meld the sunny and not-so-sunny parts of her nature.

As God of War, wouldn’t you expect Ares to be a hothead? And who else but Poseidon would create a Waterworks Park for a school project?

Suzanne [pictured here in her office]:

Eventually, we decided that all character names should be taken from Greek mythology. Even for minor characters we tried to choose names that seemed appropriate. Ares' two buddies are Kydoimos (Confusion) and Makhai (a general name for spirits of battle). And the two (twin) brothers working in the Underworld are Hypnos (God of Sleep) and Thanatos (God of Death).

And those bits of fun magic we wanted to add to our series?

Keep an eye out for an animated makeup brush, a holographic-like beast-hunting game, spells to instantly change a hairdo or send messages zooming from one place to another, and much, much more.

Happy reading to goddessgirls everywhere!

~ Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams

2010 Ezra Jack Keats Awards for Excellence in Children’s Literature

Author Tonya Hegamin and illustrator Taeeun Yoo are the winners of the 2010 Ezra Jack Keats Awards, which celebrate excellence in children’s literature by new authors and illustrators, who, in the spirit of the late author-illustrator Ezra Jack Keats, offer new and electrifying views of the multicultural world children inhabit today.

The awards will be presented at 6 p.m. April 28 by The New York Public Library and the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation. The ceremony, open to the public, will be held in the South Court Auditorium of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building in New York, New York.

Tonya Hegamin is recognized for Most Loved in All the World, illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2008), which tells the story of a little girl whose mother is a secret agent on the Underground Railroad. Before sending her daughter north to freedom, the mother sews a quilt for her daughter, not only to guide her with its symbols of moss and the north star, but also to remind her always that the smiling girl in the center of the quilt is “most loved in all the world.”


Taeeun Yoo wins for her sublime linoleum block prints in Only a Witch Can Fly, written by Alison McGhee (Feiwel & Friends, 2009), about a young witch who tries and tries again to fly one special night.


See more information on the Ezra Jack Keats Book Award and this year’s winners. Source: papertigers.blog.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Director Meg Kearney on the Solstice Creative Writing Programs of Pine Manor College in Massachusetts

Meg Kearney’s first collection of poetry, An Unkindness of Ravens, was published by BOA Editions Ltd. in 2001.

The Secret of Me, her novel in verse for teens, was released in hardcover by Persea Books in 2005; the paperback edition, along with a teacher’s guide, came out in 2007.

Four Way Books published her newest collection of poems, Home By Now, in fall 2009; by the week of Nov. 9, it appeared as #8 on the Poetry Foundation’s contemporary poetry best-seller list.

Her picture book, Trouper the Three-Legged Dog, is forthcoming from Scholastic in 2012 and will feature illustrations by E.B. Lewis.

Meg has taught poetry at The New School, and is the director of the Solstice Creative Writing Programs of Pine Manor College in Massachusetts.

She was the associate director of the National Book Foundation, sponsor of the National Book Awards, for more than 10 years.

Her poetry has been featured on Poetry Daily and Garrison Keillor’s “A Writer’s Almanac,” and has been published in myriad anthologies.

A native New Yorker, Meg now lives in New Hampshire.

Why would a children's/YA writer want to pursue an MFA degree? What doors does it open, creatively and professionally?

Most people who enter an MFA program—not just those who write for young people—do so because they want to grow as artists, become the best writers they can possibly be.

An MFA program offers structure for doing that, along with a vast supply of knowledge about craft and literature. When we work alone, learning our craft through reading, composing, and paying attention to how other writers “do what they do,” we can go quite far; but attending classes on craft, criticism, & theory and working one-on-one with a mentor can open our creative minds to ideas we might never have encountered, and push us to try things we’ve never considered before.

That said, perhaps most important is the community provided by an MFA program: at our residencies, students become close very quickly; I have seen friendships formed within days that I know will last a lifetime. In workshop, we stress the need for positive criticism; it’s all about making the work better, not tearing people down personally.

It’s only in such a warm and supportive community that students are going to feel safe enough to experiment and take creative risks they never would otherwise.

As writers, we spend so much of our time in solitude—when we come together, we realize how much we actually need colleagues who can spend hours talking about plot or dialogue or our favorite books and not think us strange or boring. Those same friends often become each other’s first readers, providing the kind of feedback writers at all levels require.

At residencies, students and faculty also spend a lot of time together—in class and workshops and at meals—and the mentor-mentee relationships created provide not just guidance and support semester to semester, but a roster of respected authors who can be called upon for references and contacts after graduation.

That’s one of the more practical considerations—an MFA program offers the chance to expand one’s professional network, and to gain experience through internships and through classes that expose students to the myriad ways their degree might “apply” in the outside world.

Could you offer us some insights into the history of the Solstice low-residency MFA in Creative Writing Program of Pine Manor College?

As an undergraduate liberal arts college, Pine Manor College is ranked number one in the country for diversity. It works to instill a strong sense of community and leadership in its students, many of whom represent the first in their families to go to college. It therefore seemed to be the ideal place to start an MFA Program.

The Solstice MFA Program launched in July, 2006, with 10 fabulous and daring students, three of whom write for children and young adults (two of those three were men!).

As founding director, I knew I wanted to create a program that celebrated diversity and community, one where students and faculty alike felt safe and supported enough to take creative risks. Today we have about 40 students and an amazing faculty (plus a top-notch assistant director) who together form the kind of community I envisioned.

What special opportunities are afforded by the program?

We keep our program intimate and affordable—we have fewer than 50 students and feature one of the lowest tuition rates in the country.

We’re also one of the few programs to offer need-based scholarships in addition to fellowships for first-semester students (including the Jacqueline Woodson Fellowship for a Young People’s Writer of African or Caribbean Decent).

[Note: Jackie is shown here with graduate Maryann Jacob Macias.]

Students are able to explore another genre in their second semester if they wish; and our third-semester students have the option of undertaking an internship in publishing, teaching, or community arts outreach.

At Solstice, we don’t separate those who write for children and young adults from the rest of the genres; the fiction writers, poets, and creative nonfiction writers are mixed together and able to “cross-pollinate” in classes and elective sessions.

Our readings also feature a mix of work for children and young adults as well as adults—something rarely presented at other reading series!

(Those who write for adults only are always blown away by YA and children’s writers; we’ve made many a convert!)

We see this as a particular strength; we have so much to teach one another. The only place the genres are separated is in workshop.

Lastly, I should mention that we’re also on a truly lovely, wooded campus that happens to be just five miles from downtown Boston.

What is the scope and focus of coursework?

At the residencies, students spend three hours a day in workshop. These workshops are the heart of the residency. The eight, three-hour sessions required allow students to experience a variety of pedagogical approaches, develop constructive critiquing skills, and enhance their own writing via close study of other works-in-progress. Our approach to the workshop emphasizes an atmosphere of mutual respect and consideration between students and faculty members.

Also, we offer a variety of craft, criticism, & theory (CC&T) classes as well as elective seminars and studies (ES&S) sessions.

The two-hour CC&T classes are designed to provide students with a deeper understanding of the structural, philosophical, and historical underpinnings of the art of writing.

The one-hour E&S sessions are designed to broaden students’ awareness and initiate dialogue concerning a variety of issues and opportunities in the literary community, from censorship to new “movements” in the field (e.g. graphic novels) to strategies for improving one’s reading/public-speaking style. These sessions also give students ideas about various roles they might undertake as writers in their communities.

Students must take a minimum of three CC&T classes and three ES&S sessions each over the course of the 10 days, though they are welcome to take more.

Students are also provided with opportunities to meet with agents and editors.

There is a reading, including a student-run event, every evening.

A few days before the residency ends, students know which faculty member they will be working with for the semester ahead; at that point, they meet with their mentor to create a semester plan. In essence, this includes a reading list as well as a schedule of when packets are due (five total, submitted over the course of 21 weeks).

In semesters one and two, packets include a mix of creative and critical work; in semester three, students focus on writing a major critical essay. Semester four involves the completion of a creative thesis, a book-length manuscript of fiction, poetry, or creative nonfiction (some of our students who write for young people might graduate with a YA novel, work of nonfiction, or a series of picture books).

What is required for the degree?

In order to graduate, students must have received a passing grade for 60 credits of course work and must have attended five, 10-day residencies.

The 60 credits include completion of the critical thesis (semester three) and a creative thesis (semester four), which is approved by the faculty mentor and a second faculty reader.

At their fifth and final residency, graduating students give a reading, attend workshops, and teach a one-hour lecture. (Classes are optional.) There is also commencement ceremony.

[Laura Williams McCaffrey's workshop is shown here.]

How is the program structured--number of semesters, etc.?

It takes two years to complete the program, which includes four semesters and five residencies. Each residency marks the beginning of a semester (winter/spring; summer/fall); the fifth residency is the graduating residency described above.

Could you describe the academic "culture" of the program?

The Solstice MFA Program is academically rigorous. We expect incoming students already to be well read in their genre, and anticipate that they will spend an average of 25 hours per week on their MFA-related work. This includes reading as well as writing—students read upward of 20 books per semester. There essentially are no breaks; as one semester ends, students are doing preparation work (reading, mostly) for the coming residency’s classes. Residencies are intense; we suggest students (and faculty) arrive well-rested!

Could you tell us about your faculty? Their credentials and areas of expertise?

Our faculty members are fabulous writers who love to teach. The most comprehensive information about them can be found on our Web site.

Those who teach writing for children and young adults include Laban Carrick Hill, Grace Lin (writer-in-residence; shown with her picture book class), Laura Williams McCaffrey, and David Yoo.

Jacqueline Woodson is one of our founding faculty members and is now a consulting writer (she “visited” us in January 2010 via Skype!).

Laban Carrick Hill writes across the genres—fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry. His latest children’s picture book, Dave the Potter: Poet, Artist, Slave (illustrated by Bryan Collier), is coming out with Little, Brown in September 2010; and his picture biography DJ Kool Herc, The Godfather of Hip Hop, will be published by Roaring Brook Press in 2011.

Grace Lin, who just received a Newbery Honor for her book When the Mountain Meets the Moon (Little, Brown, 2009), teaches both fiction and picture books. She was pretty much a sensation with the release of her first novel, The Ugly Vegetables (Charlesbridge, 1999), which was an ABA “Pick of the List” selection and named Bank Street College’s Best Book of the Year in 1999; she’s gone on to publish more than a dozen books since.

Laura Williams McCaffrey is a former librarian who writes speculative fiction that delves deeply into women who are pushing against traditional roles, including Water Shaper (Clarion, 2006) and Alia Waking (Clarion, 2003), which was nominated for the Teens Top Ten Books list. Her next book, Laila’s Flight (Clarion, 2010), will be a graphic novel of sorts—it’s truly a genre-bender and we’re all very excited about it!

David Yoo is one of the funniest writers I know. He’s the author of the novels Girls for Breakfast (Delacorte, 2005), which was named a NYPL Best Book for Teens and a Booksense Pick; and Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before (Hyperion, 2008), a Chicago Best of the Best His forthcoming collection of essays, The Choke Artist, documents the experience of growing up as a Korean American with characteristic humor.

Jacqueline Woodson—well, Jackie is a rock star, and one of our greatest supporters. She’s the author of numerous books for children and young adults, including the Newbery Honor books After Tupac & D Foster (Putnam, 2008) and Feathers (Putnam, 2007); and Miracle’s Boys (Putnam, 2002), winner of the Coretta Scott King Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize (made into a six-part television miniseries on Noggin in 2004 – 2005, directed by Spike Lee). She’s won the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, has twice been a National Book Award Finalist, and her work has been listed several times as an ALA “Best Book For Young Adults.”

We also bring a number of wonderful guests to campus—these have included Nancy Willard, Nina Crews, Donald Hall, Louise Meriwether, Melissa Stewart, and Naomi Shihab Nye [shown below].


How competitive is admissions?


Our application requires both an essay and a manuscript of creative work, in addition to three letters of reference. We’re fairly competitive; on average, 55 percent of our applicants are admitted.

As creative writers, at what level are students when they enter the program? Upon graduation?

When we read an application, we look for students who are avid readers.

We’re also looking for students who show a willingness to work hard and evolve as a writer, as well as creative work that warrants admission to a graduate-level program.

By this, we mean command of language, freshness and originality of prose or verse, depth of understanding and clear explication of the subject(s), development of dramatic material, and demonstrated knowledge of the relationship between form and content.

Of course, these criteria are be applied differently to the work of an applicant than the work of a student who is about to graduate from the program!

I know it’s not just the faculty and I who see students grow dramatically over the course of the two years—the students see this blossoming in themselves and in their peers, and often comment on it.

How about as scholars?

While students who enter the program might not be “scholars,” per se—they could well have been math or science majors in their undergraduate years; they might be travel agents or kindergarten teachers. But I would say that, by the time they graduate, our students are deeply knowledgeable about their craft as well as about young-adult and children’s literature.

Could you give us some examples of graduate success stories?


[Laban Carrick Hill is pictured with graduate Kimberly Mitchell.]

We’re a fairly new program—our first commencement was in July 2008! But as a low-residency program, we graduate (and bring in) a new class every six months.

To date, 28 percent of our graduates have published in literary journals, and 6 percent have been selected for honorable mention in national literary competitions.

In addition, 12.5 percent have lined up teaching positions at the college level.

Among current students, 24 percent have published in literary journals, 3 percent have secured book contracts for academic publications, and 9 percent have placed in national literary competitions.

Could you describe the campus?

Located in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, Pine Manor College is one of New England’s most beautiful campuses. The College is situated on sixty wooded acres where buildings of a former estate blend architecturally with state-of-the-art facilities. It’s quite easy to navigate on foot.

Whether traveling to our campus by car or by public transportation, Pine Manor is also easily accessible. The College is fifteen minutes from the heart of Boston, approximately one hour from Providence, and three and a half hours from New York City.

Is there anything you'd like to add?

Our students and alumni are always happy to email or chat on the phone with prospective students. I’d be happy to arrange that for anyone who is interested.

There is also an opportunity to audit classes at both our January and July residencies; we list the classes open to auditors on our Web site about a month before each residency begins.

Lastly, I’d urge potential applicants to visit our Web site, where we not only have comprehensive information about our program, but also profiles of our faculty, students, and alumni.
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